Abstract: They Raped Us of Our Heritage: Stories of Trauma and Resistance Among American Indian Women Survivors of Interpersonal Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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They Raped Us of Our Heritage: Stories of Trauma and Resistance Among American Indian Women Survivors of Interpersonal Violence

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Celina Doria, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: American Indian (AI) women are more likely to experience interpersonal violence (IPV) than any other ethnic minority group in the United States. In 2016, it was reported that nearly four in five AI women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. While we must acknowledge this striking gendered and racialized disparity, it is essential to note that AI women also have unique protective strategies that promote wellness and healing from violence. The purpose of this study was to explore how urban AI women are impacted by IPV, how their experiences are complicated by histories of violence against Indigenous communities, and how they may heal.

Methods: Participatory and feminist methodologies, including storytelling, were utilized. Two focus groups—conducted as talking circles—were completed with 16 AI women in a large Midwestern city. Talking circles were chosen as the research methodology, as they are culturally grounded, utilizing oral history traditions to tell stories and relay information. Participants were recruited via posted flyers at a local Urban Indian Health Organization. Focus groups were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed; themes were identified through inductive analysis. Transcriptions and analyses were shared with the women who participated in the research for feedback.

Findings: Participants’ stories brought forth themes of historical and interpersonal trauma, normalization of violence against AI women, lost cultural connections, motherhood, and resilience. All women noted the structural and systemic barriers they faced in preventing IPV, including mistrust of police and the criminal-legal system and lack of available social services. For many, violence against AI women had become a quotidian reality. One woman shared: “Sexual violence and violence against women is considered normal in my neighborhood.” Women also noted the particular power of storytelling for healing from violence. One woman summarized: “I think what helps women to survive is to be able to tell they stories so other women don't go through this.” Their experiences demonstrate the particular challenges urban AI women face in experiencing and healing from IPV.

Conclusion and Implications: Initial conclusions suggest creating intentional gathering spaces for AI women to promote healing. As the women suggest, an incorporation of Indigenous cultural knowledge and traditional healing practices within Western health frameworks may help to facilitate healing among Indigenous women impacted by IPV. These findings may better inform systems of care, including social services agencies, to support AI women survivors of IPV. In addition, this research suggests that talking circles represent a community-based, collaborative research method that may function both as a research methodology and intervention, allowing women survivors of IPV to seek healing through community and storytelling. Moreover, this research attends more broadly to cross-cultural dialogues related to violence against women, promoting Indigenous ways of knowing, healing, and social justice through the voices of urban AI women.