On Thursday evening, the Native American Student Association (NASA) and the Office of Gender Violence Prevention and Education (OGVPE) hosted Native American lawyer and teacher Sarah Deer to discuss historic violence against Indigenous peoples, with a focus in particular on the prevention of violence against indigenous women.
A citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, Deer is a leading scholar and activist for criminal justice reform on Indigenous reservations. In addition to receiving recognition from the American Bar Association and the Department of Justice for his work, his book, “The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America,” has won numerous awards, including that of best first book of the Native American Association for Indigenous Studies.
“It means my book matters,” said Deer. “I try to focus on the end goal, which is to educate the public – not just other professors in the field – but the average layman who needs and seeks information.”
With that goal in mind, Deer accepted the invitation to connect with Bowdoin students through her lecture entitled “Security and Sovereignty: The History of Violence Against Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit (LGBTQ +)”. The conference took place on Zoom with an evening on campus at the Lancaster Lounge. During the conference, Deer provided information regarding the historical background to domestic violence and sexual assault against Indigenous people as well as the implications of changes to Indian federal law regarding welfare and self-reliance. tribes.
At first glance, tribal sovereignty grants Indigenous tribes under U.S. jurisdiction the right to govern themselves. However, the actions and inactions of states and the federal government continue to challenge this right and exacerbate the imbalance of government power.
“When it comes to sovereign nations, [tribal] sovereignty has been and continues to be threatened, ”Deer said in the interview. “We had to fight and scratch for every power that we are entitled to as a sovereign nation. “
Expanding the discussion of sovereignty beyond its political and legal boundaries, Deer also spoke about its consequences for Indigenous women. She provided statistics that revealed how efforts to diminish the powers of tribal nations have perpetuated and exacerbated acts of violence, with indigenous women facing the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual assault in the country.
“As an individual, we should have the right to decide what happens to our bodies, what gives us pleasure and what we don’t want to have,” Deer said.
Holding an officer position at NASA and a job at OGVPE, Amory Malin ’24 worked to organize the event with the goal of bringing his two passions together and educating his peers on Indigenous issues. As an activist for missing and murdered Indigenous women, Malin worked with OGVPE Acting Director Rachel Reinke to bring Deer to Bowdoin in an effort to facilitate conversations about where the prevalence of violence persists.
“I am truly delighted that Amory has taken the initiative to bring Professor Deer to our campus,” said Reinke. “We already know that the stories of Indigenous women are often lost in the mainstream of everyday life, but they are one of the groups of people who experience the most institutional and individual violence. “
At the end of the presentation, however, Deer reminded the audience that Indigenous men and women should not be viewed as just victims rather than full persons. The prism of victimization harms identity constructions, confining an entire group of people to a single label that erases their individuality.
“I always like to remind people that we shouldn’t be defined by these misdeeds,” Deer said. “We are resilient people and [we] must be understood as whole human beings who are suffering.
Together, NASA, OGVPE, and Deer are encouraging Bowdoin students to tackle these issues in order to learn how to best end the violence not only on the Bowdoin campus, but around the world.