It can be extremely difficult to reach out to indigenous communities on the issue of sexual assault, as this traumatic occurrence is deeply rooted in colonization and has manifested in the abuse of Native women. However, several Native American organizations on and around campus have called attention to this issue and have done the necessary (and laborious) work of educating us on the issues facing Native women across our country and Canada. I had the opportunity to learn about this issue myself during the REDress event hosted at OU thanks to the efforts of Native activist group
Oklahoma is a site of increased sexual assault and repeated trauma to the indigenous community for many reasons relating to our presence as an oil and gas reliant state. “Man camps” accompanying oil booms are directly correlated to higher rates of the murder and rape of Native women. To learn more about this phenomenon, review this Washington Post article. We must be outspoken and active as a university on Native land; it is our responsibility to learn about these issues and do what we can to help end the continued trauma and sexual assault facing the indigenous community.
The following response comes from Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma (Native American Fraternity) representative, Rex LeClair:
Firstly, I need to assure my reader that I speak not for our indigenous women, but in advocating for these issues. When it comes down to gender-based violence against indigenous women, one must understand why our situation is unique from the many others you may also be covering in this issue. The violence against indigenous bodies is nothing new, and has been occurring since the first colonizers came to the Americas. This violence can be noted as early as manuscripts from European missionaries to the present day where our women experience violence at alarmingly high rates. A 2016 study from the Department of Justice found that out of 2,000 women surveyed, 90 percent had experienced violence from someone outside of their community. It’s clear that most of this violence isn’t from within, but from outside.
This is directly correlated to the dehumanization of indigenous bodies, and like many other instances of colonization, the women are the ones who suffer the most. No doubt, it is no different on a college campus, where rates of sexual assault are already high enough to have to tell people what consent is and why sexual assault is wrong.
It’s difficult to root this issue briefly, but if I had to tell you anything, it’d be that the issue of sexual violence towards native women is an issue unique to us and our history involving hundreds of years of colonization, which still occurs today. With that said, our community at OU does the best we can to advocate for these women through raising awareness and making sure people have an understanding that this is an issue.
Many people have no idea that contemporary native people are all around. Organizations like Gamma Delta Pi, OU’s native sorority, has done Red Dress events on the South Oval to raise awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women (link to more info). I represent the Native fraternity known as Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma, and we do an event called “Warriors for Women,” where we invite community members to listen to the stories of survivors and understand what one can do in the face of experiencing or seeing this violence occur. The efforts are out there—we just have to keep fighting and advocating.
Emily “Eddy” Mee is the Editor-in-Chief of FORUM. She is a Junior Political Science major and an aspiring politician and writer.
Rex LeClair is a member of the Ponca Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma. He comes from Tulsa, and hopes to attend medical school after obtaining a degree in Biochemistry. He is a brother and Chairman of OU’s first and only Native American fraternity, Sigma Nu Alpha Gamma.