Native American women have several distinctive characteristics because of the distinct gender roles in the native culture. These roles define their place in the society in both positive and negative ways. Gender violence targeting the Native American women follows some of these patterns.
The goal of this paper is to examine the factors contributing to gender violence against Native American women and the response of their religious and spiritual traditions.
There is need to point out that there is a varying degree of acculturation of Native Americans. Some of them are completely urbanite with little or no tie to ethnic life, while others have the full ethnic upbringing. This paper focuses on the ethnic Native Americans with a strong tribal background.
Several factors contribute to the violence against Native American women. These include the weaknesses of the criminal justice system, racism and the “lasting legacy of colonization”. The Native American society has its own criminal justice system. This system is not as elaborate as the federal law.
There was a push to expand the jurisdiction of the tribal courts to give them the power to give sentences longer than three years. In their current state, they do not have the power to issue sentences that have a strong deterrent effect. Women who undergo domestic violence do not feel safe to report perpetrators because of the high risk that the system will not deliver justice.
When cases of assault do not end with a conviction, the society ostracizes the women. It is difficult to participate socially after such as experience. This situation makes it impossible or highly undesirable for women to report cases of violence against them. They prefer to save face and to live with the consequences of violence.
The second major factor responsible for violence against Native American women is racism. Along with other minorities, Native Americans are the target of racism because of their distinct culture. Statistics show that there is a greater incidence of violence against Native American women compared to any other ethnic minorities.
The simple conclusion to this fact is that there is a race factor behind the high levels of violence. Native American women tend to be less educated than all other minorities.
They also have very visible cultural tendencies, which make them an objective target of hatred from dominant communities. They are also the object of many stereotypes that arise out of this cultural distinctness.
The third issue that influences violence against Native American women is the lasting legacy of colonization. In the native Indian societies, violence against women was unheard. It was a sign of lack of control to beat a woman.
Since the arrival of colonialists, violence against Native American women grew, both from their tribesmen and from those from other derivations. The main reason for this is that social balance deteriorated with the arrival of settlers.
They disturbed the cultural systems that the Indians lived under for the time before the arrival of the settlers. Some of the forces that weakened the tribal safety net were the attempt to evangelize the natives, efforts to school them, and the general violence that affected the entire Indian people accompanying colonization.
Religious and spiritual traditions of the Indians had a very revered view of women. Women played an unmatched role as the givers of life who perpetuated life. The Indian culture revered life as sacred and sought to live in harmony with nature.
In those days, men who meted out violence on their wives faced harsh censure from the community. It was a sign of weakness to beat a woman.
One of the repercussions of such actions was that the perpetrator could never lead other men in any activity. They could not lead warriors to war, and they could not lead hunting parties. It also limited their role as elders and guides to the community in later life.
There is significant weakening of the religious and spiritual systems because of the forces discussed earlier. Unlike the past where the entire community could hold an errant member to account for misdemeanors, the systems collapsed over time making the punishments either irrelevant or mild because of the multiplicity of options available for perpetrators to escape punishment.
There is reduced significance of the place of women in this society as life givers because of all the alternate philosophies affecting perceptions of the roles of women.
In order to reverse the current trends, the most significant thing that can help to catalyze the process is increased involvement of the federal government in the administration of justice in gender violence cases.
The federal government needs to either empower the tribal courts to deal more firmly with cases of violence against women, or to establish alternative criminal justice processes that are friendlier to victims of abuse.
The best way to participate in this process is to join or support advocacy groups working towards getting greater involvement of the federal government in the cases of violence against Native American women.
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Lockhart, L. L., & Danis, F. S. (2010). Domestic Violence: Intersectionality and Culturally Competent Practice. Columbia: Columbia University Press.