Equal protection under the law remains a broken promise to Native women. In September of last year, the Alaska Star reported that a 34-year-old Alaskan man, Justin Scott Schneider, had pled guilty to one count of second-degree assault and reached a plea deal where he will serve no time in prison. His crime was strangling a 25-year-old Native woman until she passed out, and then sexually assaulting her. Anchorage Assistant District Attorney Andrew Grannick said that he’d made the deal with Schneider because he doesn’t expect Schneider to offend again, adding , "But I would like the gentleman to be on notice that is his one pass — it’s not really a pass — but given the conduct, one might consider it is."
Justice has failed Schneider’s victim, the young Native woman who told police, "You don’t forget the face of the man who almost killed you." With stories such as this one and the many others like it , it’s hard to be hopeful about improving the harrowing conditions that indigenous women face across the United States and Canada.
Federal figures show that more than half of indigenous women in the U.S. have experienced sexual or domestic violence at some point in their lives, and the Seattle Times reports that 94 percent of Native American women in Seattle have been raped or coerced into sex, according to a survey from the Urban Indian Health Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a Native woman, I know that our suffering cannot be quantified by statistics, especially statistics formulated by governments that have actively tried to erase us. What’s realer to me, though, is the people who must live with these tragedies and injustices each day.
I often worry about my community members on Seabird Island in British Columbia, where threats against Native women seem to loom almost daily. It feels like an incurable epidemic. The stories come so quickly it’s hard to follow them all or mourn long enough before another tragedy appears. Close to my reserve on Seabird Island, my friends in Chawathil First Nation had to rely on their own community to search for Shawnee Inyallie , a young woman who disappeared in their community without a trace. The family was frustrated with the lack of support from authorities, and her body was only discovered after months.
On my own reserve, a friend of our family’s, Stacy McNeil, was interviewed on APTN National News this summer regarding a recent incident: She and her family were at a fish camp between Hope and Yale in British Columbia, when a boatload of fishermen exposed themselves then urinated and made unwanted sexual comments to her in front of the children there. She said her hands were shaking as she called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to report the incident.
Stacy has been working in the tribal office since she became an adult, and she’s become a role model for many people where I’m from. Imagining her bringing her family to have a day by the river, only to be met with indecency and sexual aggression, is sad but not surprising. Women where I’m from are familiar with these types of men. And while I’m glad Stacy called the police, none of us who have lived with these predations our whole lives can seriously expect that these men, or the others like them, will be brought to justice.
It feels like indigenous people are left alone to endure these things, and to carry the weight of them when justice isn’t delivered. I’m uncertain what justice would look like for Stacy, or for the 25-year-old woman […]
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