No More Stolen Sisters
Violence on the Land, Violence on our bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence
This issue of IGG, I would like to shine light on human trafficking in my Diné community and highlight a project that works to support survivors.
Trafficking stems from colonial genocide and is perpetuated by fossil fuel industries. In 2015 I was a part of a collective of young Diné folks that walked through our ancestral territory to scout out our homeland, but most importantly we took offerings to our 4 sacred mountains. (Visit Broken boxes Podcast). It was a huge slap in the face to see the puzzle pieces come together. Understanding why our communities are preyed on and how the violence on the land was tied directly to the violence on our bodies.
During that time relatives from Native Youth Sexual Health Network came to walk with us. During their visit we learned about their work on “Violence on the Land, Violence on our Bodies: Building an Indigenous Response to Environmental Violence”, a community-based research and advocacy project aimed at documenting the experiences of Indigenous women, youth and community members whose sexual and reproductive health and rights have been affected by gas and oil development, mining, and pesticides—something known as “environmental violence”. This initiative is a collaboration between the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) and Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA).
This toolkit changed my life and opened my eyes to the fact that healing the land is healing our bodies. It has been 4 years since the walk and 3 years since the publication debuted of this toolkit. Years later survivors are now reclaiming their power, seeking help and healing. How do we help manifest that? The second section of this article highlights a project that hopes to provide services to survivors. “Countless survivors and victims alike tried many, many times to get help but were continuously failed because authorities, community and legislation did not recognize signs and effects of human trafficking. People could not identify it. People could not see it. When you cannot see it, you do not know it is there. Part of healing and creating change, is altering the way we are seeing human and sex trafficking.”
Every day we pray for our relatives that go missing and we want them to be found. We want them to heal, no more of this connected violence. Our land is having violence enacted to it and that violence is reflected upon our bodies. Whether it’s through sexual abuse due to increased man camps, contamination of breast milk due to toxins, spontaneous miscarriages, children born with developmental delays, those are all ways that violence upon the land directly impacts native women’s bodies…
May as many women as possible walk with us and receive healing for whatever trauma they may carry, may they be restored simultaneously as our land heals because when we heal, our mother heals and when she heals, we heal.
They Bring the Naayéé to Chaco Canyon-Eastern part of Dinétah
One of the United States’ most heavily resource extracted areas is the Four Corners region in the Southwest. This area, one of the largest and richest natural resource corridors in the country, is considered by some to be a “National Sacrifice Zone.” It is also home to the Diné Nation. W.C.K.—who asked us not to use her full name—is a Diné advocate who, along with her Diné sisters, is raising awareness in their communities about how extractive industries like fracking, drilling, and mining are bringing violence to the reservation and surrounding areas. “There’s every form of resource exploitation you can think of here,” W.C.K. told our team. That exploitation is visible across Dinétah, including in Table Mesa in New Mexico, where W.C.K.’s family is from. “[The elders] talk about how…back in the day, during our great-grandparents time, the grass was as high as a horse’s belly. But now, you go out [to the homesteads] and there’s no vegetation.” The land has been so polluted, and so drained of water and the rich minerals that sustained a people since time immemorial, that “nothing grows there now.” And where fracking and other industries exist, workers’ camps and violence follows. Like many other rural Indigenous communities that have seen a recent boom in resource extraction (e.g. those in the Bakken region), “there’s not the infrastructural support to regulate or to even try to handle any of this insurgence of non-native men onto our land who bring what we call naayéé, or monsters, or things that bring chaos and dysfunction into our communities. So it’s kind of a free-for-all out there right now.” The workers’ camps—or man camps—are everywhere, W.C.K. says. “Because they didn’t lay pipelines in, they’re burning off the methane [through] double-stack flares. But they’re also having to run these drilling sites, these wells, 24/7. And every single one of the wells out there has a man camp at the base of them.” The large spike in non-Native populations within the boundaries of the reservation makes a community already struggling with the social stressors caused by generational poverty, historical trauma and abuse of many forms even more dangerous for Navajo women and young people. “We have high, high, high levels of sexual violence, especially in checkerboard areas. Which is why the Eastern Agency [where much of the present day oil boom is taking place] is so vulnerable, because…the jurisdiction is so convoluted that when a relative is violenced, it’s very difficult— especially if it’s by a non-Native—to determine whose jurisdiction this issue belongs to. And most often the cases are just dropped.” The result is that many instances of violence are simply not reported, both because there’s only a small likelihood that the case will be heard, and because, “if you report it, you risk retaliation from other families. And you risk retaliation from systems that don’t give a shit about you.”
W.C.K. and others feel these harms have reached a critical mass. “What I’m finding is that more and more Navajo girls are going missing,” W.C.K. shares. “There’s talk of girls being trafficked through tunnels…And these tunnel systems cannot be created by anything other than the type of mining machinery that they use back home.” While she tells us that she’s unable to give the actual names of those involved over the phone because it’s just too dangerous, she says, “it’s shocking to know…which people and which entities and which collectives [are involved in the underground trafficking of our girls]. And it’s absolutely, directly tied to resource extraction.” For W.C.K., this work is extremely personal, not only as a Diné woman, but as someone who grew up in the highly racialized and industrialized border towns of the Navajo Nation and the Southwest. She has had relatives go missing and has seen the injustice of the settler state that calls these countless disappearances and murders “suicides” because the victims may fall within certain stereotypes and are therefore considered expendable. “These [colonial nation and state] borders have enriched my life,” W.C.K. says. “But they’ve also kind of entangled me in my community in all these different ways that have created this social, emotional, and spiritual paralysis.
Source: Land Body Defense
STANDING WITH OUR SACRED WOMEN: IGNITING FREEDOM
FUNDRAISER FOR THE PATHFINDER CENTER
BY ELIZABETH L. ROYAL
The main goal of traffickers is to break the spirit of the victim. To remain silent on this tragedy is to perpetuate breaking the spirit of a human being. Freedom is a birthright to everyone.
It is time for a paradigm shift. It is time create radical action to transform lives. It is time to break this cycle so that future generations will not endure it. It is time to empower the lives of survivors here now and for the ones out there waiting to be discovered. In order to have a real choice to exit this slavery, bondage, and prostitution there must be a variety of services designed beyond a 30 day period. Many places for recovery stop at 30 days and it simply not enough time for survivors. Survivors need a deep integrative approach to healing that most modalities in mainstream society do not have at this time. Many of the survivors vary in age. It is vital that survivors have continual access to physical and mental healthcare, education, job training and placement, legal services, and specialized services to support them in creating a new empowered life. The PathFinder Center is where survivors can start to heal and begin the journey of a new life. A life of freedom, empowerment, joy, love, and the expression of their fullest potential. Each woman has something inherently beautiful, extraordinary, and special that only she can offer our world. Honor her life. Honor her ancestors, elders, aunties, sisters, nieces, cousins, and the women of her family. Honor her voice. Honor her spirit. Honor her womanhood. When we heal the woman, we heal the land. Let the power of love transform and elevate a new path for our youth.
Every day the waiting list for survivors to receive safety, protection, healing, and recovery is growing. There is an urgent need for additional funds to hire new staff, and expand its resources. The Pathfinder Center is not able to take in survivors on the waiting list without more donations.
Human trafficking is alive in our daily lives. The International Labor Organization defines the reality of forced labor, trafficking, and modern slavery that is imposed on adults and children as the following:
Forced labor is different from sub-standard or exploitative working conditions. Various indicators can be used to ascertain when a situation amounts to forced labor, such as restrictions on workers’ freedom of movement, withholding of wages or identity documents, physical or sexual violence, threats and intimidation or fraudulent debt from which workers cannot escape.
The trafficking of women and children is a violence against human rights and gender discrimination. Out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labor imposed by state authorities.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.
· Native women are 3.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped compared to women of other races. Twenty-two percent of Native children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is equal to PTSD found in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The Department of Justice has recognized this epidemic and in October 2017, awarded more than $130 million to “Improve Public Safety, Address Violence against Women and Victim Services for American Indian and Alaskan Native People.”
Human trafficking is alive in our daily lives. The sexual exploitation of native women goes back colonization, and the American Indian boarding school era historically. Prostitution, human, and sex trafficking today is the a living force of historical violence against all nations. It is a living reality right now that one in three native women will be raped in an individual lifetime. In the United States, and abroad, Native American and Alaska Native women face powerfully escalating rates of rape and sexual violence, where 6 out of 10 Native women will be physically assaulted. It is clear that Native women are stalked, and murdered over 20 times a national average.
CHANGING THE WAY WE SEE:
These statistics inform us that it is vital to change the way we see and identify a modern slave, a forced laborer, and a forced sex worker. It is clear that human trafficking is more prevalent, complex, and close to home. The images you see here are common identifications of what mainstream society conceptualizes as the idea of what human trafficking looks like.
Move your sight deeper beyond the surface level of these images. These images evoke: Pain, Despair, Cruelty, Slavery, Violence, Loss, Numbness, Fear, Isolation and more. When you go deeper into these images and allow your inner sight to unfold, you touch the silence permeating the atmosphere of these women. A silence that speaks a story. Voices that say:
· All trafficking is stealing a human life: stealing a childhood, stealing young adulthood, stealing a sense of home with loved ones, stealing dreams, wishes, fullest potential and fullest self-realization that are in the fabric of life a human life. Why does my life not matter in this world?
· My body is not my own.
· I am invincible. No one sees me.
· I have gone for help to authorities and it has failed- again, and again. What hope do I have?
· Incest and trafficking share a common thread- no one wants to talk about it.
· Isolation is obvious aftermath of being trapped in this cycle. Cultivating a self-driven inner courage and inner resilience to fight for my life is something no one knows about. It is something that you must go deeper than just having hope for one more day.
· Forced to function in a broken reality, where tears are unexpressed and if let out would move like rivers.
· My body is in so much pain and I have no relief. No one can see my scars or bruises. Skin heals but the inner wounds remain.
· Imagine being somewhere else, out of body, and out of mind until they were done.
· Blocking memories. Leading a double life.
· In the middle of a conversation with another person, a flashback arises. To stop and think about the reality could open a break down and nothing to hold onto.
The common age for sexual slavery, and human trafficking is 13 years old. This means that every 30 seconds: a child- boy or girl is trafficked. Many of you may be thinking: What does it matter? This will never happen to me. This happens to someone else, and not to me. This will never happen to my family, I pray it will never happen to me: my mother, daughter, sister, friend, cousin, neighbor, co-worker. Furthermore, it will never happen to a future generation.
I invite you to reconsider your thinking. When you think of human trafficking, it is easy to conceptualize that someone is kidnapped. Kidnapping does take place. However, when we go deeper into this epidemic, there is something else happening here that must be known. Grooming. Grooming is to prepare or train someone for a purpose or task. There is a seduction of care-taking” and abuse that perpetuates itself. Choice and consent are blurred leaving effects of psychological warfare.
How does it still continue? This is an important question. In order to answer this question, let us start a new conversation. Let us start a paradigm shift. It is time to break the silence in the atmosphere in mainstream society. It is time to break the silence on the history of native women being bought, sold, and traded since European colonization of the American continent. It is time to break the silence on the historical and violent context of assimilation in the atmosphere of survivors and lives lost to this epidemic.
Survivors and victims’ experience a very real challenge around the storytelling of human trafficking: language, ideology of trafficking, history of its birth in colonization, perception of victim-hood, identification of trafficker, invisibility of victims of trafficking. They are not real because no one sees them. People don’t see them as real people, but as a character, and people look the other way for a long time. Ultimately, and everlasting silence remains.
Healing begins when we honor the resilience, voice, sacredness, beauty, bravery, strength, and empowerment of survivors, lost lives, and precious lives waiting to be discovered. I encourage you to take the abstract idea of human trafficking that is layered, ugly, complex, brutal, horrifying, and fearful. It is time to rise beyond these notions and to move with radical action towards the true splendor of liberation, empowerment and healing for survivors. It is time to dissolve the pathways that force survivors to continue to learn to cope and function with trauma.
Countless survivors and victims alike tried many, many times to get help but were continuously failed because authorities, community and legislation did not recognize signs and effects of human trafficking. People could not identify it. People could not see it. When you cannot see it, you do not know it is there. Part of healing and creating change, is altering the way we are seeing human and sex trafficking.
I encourage you to go beyond the identification of victim-hood of survivors and to honor their stories, honor their resilience, and honor their survival.
· To listen to the voice and stories of survivors.
· To acknowledge the stories of survivors.
· To honor the humanity of survivors. In each of these survivors there are so much that deserves to be celebrated, honored, and protected. To fight for freedom and a new life, requires more than the naked eye and steadfastness of a human spirit.
Recognize within them the courage, resilience, strength, brilliance, compassion, wisdom, determination, beauty, power, bravery.
· Acknowledging the forced learning to cope and function with trauma.
· Dissolving the mentality of mainstream society: “If nobody sees it, then nobody knows.”
· In medicine, there is a fifth vital sign called pain. Despite all of extraordinary advancements in technology, medicine, and diagnostic testing, pain is still unidentifiable. There is no machine, test, medicine, or procedure that can tell decode pain. The following questions are asked: Are you in pain? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would rate your pain? 10 being the most extreme. Where do you experience it? What frequency? What is the characteristic of your pain? How long has it been going on for?”
Every day doctors, surgeons, nurses, and medical teams around the world must ask a person to speak about and describe their pain. Pain is unreachable to the human consciousness and eye- You simply cannot make the determination for someone about their own pain. Similarly, if mainstream society remains silent on the historical contexts of colonization, violence, and survival there is a silencing and perpetuating of pain.
SURVIVING DISAPPEARANCE, RE-IMAGINING LIFE, & STANDING STRONG AS LIVING POWER OF RESILIENCE :
When it comes to traumas of this magnitude to a human being’s soul, it cannot be understood if it cannot be seen. This pain is invisible to the human eye. However it can be felt with your heart. It can be understood now in what you have learned here. Traffickers grow and perpetuate this epidemic because of silence.
The truth you stand under shapes the posture of your feet and how you show up in the world. When you wake up in the morning, and remember the gratitude to be alive, to love, to pursue what brings you joy and deeper meaning to your life, to receive the blessing and splendor of a new day and to explore your birthright- to live your life: Let your love touch another life, touch all creation, and transform our world for all generations to come. It let your love touch the lives of these survivors.
It is time for a paradigm shift. It is time create radical action to transform lives. It is time to break this cycle so that future generations will not endure it. It is time to empower the lives of survivors here now and for the ones out there waiting to be discovered. In order to have a real choice to exit this slavery, bondage, and prostitution there must be a variety of services designed beyond a 30 day period. All survivors MUST have continual access to physical and mental healthcare, education, job training and placement, legal services, and specialized services.
Every day the waiting list for survivors to receive safety, protection, healing, and recovery is growing. There is an urgent need for additional funds to hire new staff, and expand its resources. Until more monetary donations are raise, the Pathfinder Center is not able to take in these survivors. These survivors cannot receive the help that they need without these additional funds.
Please consider giving a monetary donation.
Let our love lead, inspire, and transform for past, present, and future generations.
Become a part of history.
Be a powerful force for change.