Howard Center: historic trauma contributes to abuse in Indian country


Photo: Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

Trauma in Native American communities play a role in child sexual abuse, experts say

Thursday 23 September 2021

By McKenna Leavens, Allison Vaughn, Anne Mickey, Rylee Kirk, Brendon Derr and Leilani Fitzpatrick

Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

Child sexual abuse is such an ancient problem that it is explained in many Native American communities with a parable known as The Story of the Moon and the Sun. As recounted by child psychologist Dolores Subia BigFoot, a member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma, the story of a brother and sister who lost their parents and many loved ones and only have each other. . The sister longs for companionship and tells her brother her “desire to share his life with someone,” the parable says. One night, a man comes to her in the darkness of their camp. She can’t tell who he is, but he’s nice and makes her laugh and, over time, they become lovers. In the end, the girl learns that the stranger is her brother, and they are devastated. “He became the MOON that shines only in the dark of night and it became the SUN. You can always see his shame because he never shines brightly when the sun is up, ”the parable says.

Moon and sun

Child psychologist Dolores Subia BigFoot tells the story of the moon and sun, which has been passed down verbally in Indigenous communities for generations as a resource to help people learn more about child sexual abuse and its prevalence. Image courtesy of Dolores Subia BigFoot via Howard Center for Investigative Journalism

BigFoot directs Native American programs at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She says that one version of this parable has been shared among different tribes for generations. Barbara Bettelyoun is a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community in Minnesota and holds doctorates in child development and clinical child psychology. She runs Buffalo Star People, an organization based in South Dakota specializing in healing historical and childhood trauma in Indigenous communities. She and her husband, Francis, are speaking out nationally about child sexual abuse in Native American communities. “I don’t think there is an indigenous family that hasn’t been touched by this,” Bettelyoun said, pausing. “I don’t think there is one; I do not know any. Rape has always been used as a weapon of war, and this was true when settlers colonized Native American lands. According to Bettelyoun and other experts, this scholarly abuse has been passed down from generation to generation, creating intergenerational trauma. US Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo de Laguna and the first Indigenous cabinet member in US history, noted the “long-standing intergenerational trauma” and its “cycles of violence and abuse. abuse ”when she announced in June a federal inquiry into the legacy of residential schools.

A group of girls march down the street on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on July 22, 2021. Over the past decade, federal prosecutors have filed complaints less than half the time in criminal cases. sexual abuse of children from Indian country. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli / Howard Center for Investigative Journalism
Christian churches and the US government established these schools in the 19th century to forcibly assimilate Indigenous children into American culture. Children were taken from their families and sent – sometimes thousands of miles away – to boarding schools, where their long hair was cut short and they were not allowed to speak their own language, wear traditional clothing or to practice their religion. “The intention was that when the children returned to their own families and villages, they would be ashamed of being indigenous,” said Bettelyoun. “They did it by raping our children, molesting them and mistreating them in horrible ways.” The remains of hundreds of children have already been found on the former grounds of Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school. A 2012 study by researchers at the University of Washington found that “former residents reported higher rates of current illicit drug use and alcohol use disorders, and were much more likely to ” having attempted suicide and having had suicidal thoughts in their lifetime compared to non-participants. The survey of 447 American Indian, Alaska Native, and urban First Nations adults who identified as LGBT, Two-Spirit, or engaged in same-sex behavior also found that those who were raised by someone One who attended residential school was more likely to have attempted suicide and had thoughts of suicide in their lifetime. Dr Renée Ornelas, a 30-year child abuse pediatrician who has worked at Tséhootsooí Medical Center in Fort Defiance, Ariz., Said Indigenous children sent to residential schools were physically, sexually and spiritually abused. And the cycle of violence continued when these children, who had never had parents, returned home and became parents themselves. “All of these things that you learn growing up about how to be safe, no one has ever taught them,” Ornelas said, adding that nine out of 10 caregivers who bring their child to his clinic for sexual abuse have them- even been mistreated. In addition, she said, the modern version of boarding schools now sees cases of children mistreating other children. “What we know now is that if you grow up in a household with domestic violence, you can learn about sexual abuse. You can do this to other children, not for sexual gratification, but to cause humiliation, embarrassment, intimidation. The trauma of childhood sexual abuse not only creates lifelong emotional turmoil, it can lead to long-term physical problems, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, said Debra Kaysen, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. at Stanford University. Speaking of residential school survivors, Kaysen said, “What you get is someone who is very traumatized, who is sent back to a community, often without coping strategies to deal with their distress. ”

Howard Center for Investigative Journalism: “Small Victims Everywhere”
Francis Bettelyoun, a member of the Oglala Lakȟóta and Yankton Sioux tribe, is an Indigenous Liaison Officer at Winona State University in Minnesota. He is descended from residential school survivors and says he was sexually assaulted as a child. “I manage this every day. I cannot separate myself from the trauma that has occurred. My father was in boarding school, his father, my grandfather too, and the two previous generations also faced this, ”said Francis Bettelyoun. “To overcome this, you have to recognize that it is not something that goes away and will go away over time,” said Bettelyoun. “This is something that needs to be addressed by those who made it and those who are a part of it now.”

Researchers Grace Oldham and Rachel Gold contributed to this story. It was produced by the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, an initiative of the Scripps Howard Foundation in honor of the late leader of the news industry. and pioneer Roy W. Howard. For more information, see azpbs.org/littlevictims. Contact the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at [email protected] or at Twitter @HowardCenterASU.


Howard Center for Investigative Journalism: Pathways to justice (September 2, 2021)
Howard Center for Investigative Journalism: Tribal Law and Disorder (August 30, 2021)
Howard Center for Investigative Journalism: “No Justice, Just Injustice” (August 24, 2021)
Howard Center for Investigative Journalism: “Small Victims Everywhere” (August 18, 2021)



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