The violence that brutalizes Indigenous people at epidemic levels was recently confronted by a group of women on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning. According to the Indian Law Resource Center, nearly four out of five Native women experience violence, and one in two have experienced sexual violence. The cycle of violence doesn’t end there: rippling out into the community and impacting future generations are the children who are exposed to violence who suffer rates of PTSD similar to war veterans.
One prevention model likens violence to a contagious disease, one violent incident creating another violent incident, bubbling up in clusters throughout a community.
#MMIWarriors founder Souta Calling Last, who is the Executor Director of the nonprofit Indigenous Vision, says that, “Self-defense classes can be a vital tool in the efforts to interrupt the cycle of violence, saving a life and ending violence in our community.”
On Saturday, April 13, women and girls from around the Blackfeet Reservation gathered in the gym of Napi Elementary to meet with instructors Justin DuMontier and Rose Bear Don’t Walk from the Cross Collar Academy, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) school on the Flathead Reservation. These self-defense events are part of a growing social movement organized across the country by Souta (Blackfeet/Blood) who grew up in Heart Butte. By chance, Rose Bear Don’t Walk (Confederated Salish and Kootenai) had also just received a Change Maker grant to gauge interest in self-defense. The duo, both alums of the Environmental Studies Department at the University of Montana, set out to bring self-defense to a community where murder goes unchecked and families of missing women are still waiting for answers.
Bear Don’t Walk said, “The class was a great success! We had an amazing group of women, ranging from young girls and teen to moms and grandmothers. The women were so much fun to work with. We shared a lot of laughs, and I think we all came away with more confidence and belief in ourselves. It was a beautiful, empowering day. We’re thankful that we can bring the gentle art to tribal communities so that we can help lift up our women.”
Diana Bird and Belinda BullShoe (both Blackfeet) of the Silent Warriors Coalition in Browning, who work to bring hope back to the Blackfeet people with prayers and public service, hosted and facilitated the free community event. Recapping the event BullShoe said, “Having this class, it brought confidence to us as women. Being able to use different techniques against a possible attacker or kidnapper was an eye opener to everyone. Today, Native American women are disappearing, and if we are taught these defense moves, maybe it will help us in fighting off a possible kidnapper. The instructors showed patience to us, making sure we knew every move so that we understood each one. I’m grateful to Cinda and Diana Bird for bringing them to Browning. I do hope they return. The participants of the workshop agreed they will all be attending again and hope more people will be interested. We had from young to older students, and this was something to see, knowing all ages are at risk to get kidnapped. Rose and Justin showed empowerment in their self defense teaching, and we are happy we were able to take part in it.”
The organizers would like to thank Napi Elementary for providing space and Karla Bird for helping secure and promote the event.
To learn more about #MMIWarriors and how you can participate or find resources on how to organize your own self-defense event, please visit www.indigen ousvision.org. A goal is to end violence by making this a prevention tool for all communities.