Cristine has survived years of childhood sexual violence from her step-father Dale, a healer in her community. Her story was one of the first I heard, beginning to end. The emotional control her perpetrator used to groom Cristine at a young age, the sexual violence that began and lasted for 8 years, and her healing journey. She spoke with confidence, knowledge and a deeper understanding that surprised me. Her eyes stared straight ahead, open and bare, and she told me her pain, and that of her people. For hours we spoke, then I came back and we spoke for many more hours, many more times.
I found her laughter to be heart warming. Often she would laugh as a way of saying "obviously", and it put me at ease, seeing her eyes crinkle and sparkle- maybe because I knew of the pain behind them, maybe because I needed reassurance that the horrors Cristine went through in her life- don't always destroy you.
I did notice little things, the knives strategically placed in every room of her house, including one by her bed, or her insistence to always sit with her back facing the wall if she's outside her own home. Her past sometimes comes through the cracks, but I know the strength that she gets from her culture and her spirituality, which has gotten her this far, will always be there for her. Her battle cry is loud.
The statistics clearly show that 86 percent of Native American folks who are raped describe their offender as non-Indian, pointing to the source of the epidemic of sexual violence in Native American communities as one of colonization, historical events and judicial isolation. Afraid to convolute this reality I was unsure of how Cristine's experience fit into the larger story. Until I was able to understand that the harmful government policies, that began with an official government edict of “annihilate or assimilate” centuries ago, has bled into the present day and created a poisonous reality for indigenous folks that has fostered a cycle of violence within their own communities.
To hear more about Cristine’s story, the cycle of violence and what the boarding school era meant for indigenous peoples in this country check out the short documentary Hearts on The Ground.