Friday, August 12, 2011


(This is part of a response to the the Ross-Finley article in Indian Country Today)

I’ve never seen a budget break-out of the cost of a “safe house” for women and children fleeing abuse.  Obviously the place has to be big enough to shelter the number of people involved, with enough kitchen and laundry facilities and protected access.  Locations need to be secret because the abusers will try to find their families and bring them home or take revenge.  Guns could be involved.  There will need to be access to medical facilities for broken arms and internal damage.  Once the “safe house” is established, the cost of food, clothing, and all the other maintenance costs of a household will continue.  That seems obvious.  There will be immense phone bills and cost for transportation as people try to network and look for jobs, maybe a new community.
I have a strong suspicion that the cost of the many studies over the years, whether academic or task forces or NGO’s, have amounted to far more than the simple cost of direct rescue and protection from violence, even if the cost of law enforcement is included.  I’ve been looking at some of these studies on-line and see that there is always a lot of seeking of qualified members (who will be paid plus their travel and accommodation), framing up the methods, getting permission, worry about violating culture norms, and reliance on questionnaires and statistics, all of which cost money to produce and analyze.  There is great concern for creating “resources” which often seem to be people sitting in offices keeping records and telling the abused what to do.
I was really a little shocked by one study that kept saying,  “What is the readiness of this community to accept the changes necessary?”  I understand that the status quo always lends its inertia to opposition, but the tone was very much that of a parent who says,  “Go to your room until you’re ready to behave.”  There was expressed surprise that people wanted to find ways to address violence -- as though the pain and destruction were approved of -- and constant worry about whether the autochthonous culture would permit change.  (More about that later.)  In short, these studies were almost always made by outsiders who were “objective” to the point of being obtuse and who had no skin in the game, to coin a phrase.
Grants are money.  Foundations are about money.  Studies are about money.  People on panels are about money.  Many many people in this country, particularly those with college educations that are supposed to give them good lives without doing manual labor, make their living from these sources.  Someone once asked a writer if she could make a living as a writer.  “No,” she said.  “But you can do pretty well if you can get on enough panels, act as a consultant, make public speeches, and teach workshops.”  She was talking about published narratives, but that’s what all these studies produce while carefully purporting to be scientific and reality-based.  It’s a good idea to be sensational because that attracts more money.  Abuse survivors have more credibility, the same as recovering addicts.
I understand the idea that outsiders are more likely to be trained, to be exempt from local politics, to be objective and so on.  But over the years the “outsiders” have formed their own “inside” and collaborate to set norms and make assumptions that they all share -- none of them particularly attuned to the local situation.  In short, they have their own culture -- very politically attuned -- the determination to prevent violence through the use of bureaucracy, which provides salaries, sometimes to the victims of violence themselves.  But their own urge to control -- for good motives, of course -- is the beginning of new abuse: regulations, inspections, fines, removal of children, scheduling. 
Most of the thinking about abuse of women is in terms of laws, police, programs, counseling centers, and so on.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen any writing that reflected on profits deriving from many of the roots of violence, like alcohol use or men who shuttle through households.  When something stays in place so intractably despite half the population (at least the females) being damaged and children being endangered, then there must be forces holding the situation in place.
I would look at two things, if I were brave and funded.  One would be paper land swindles -- corruption to do with leases, overlooked situations that SHOULD involve leases or easements, taxation and the like.  I recall when it dawned on the tribe that the power and telephone lines crossing the reservation ought to be paying for easements and the resulting indignation the affected businesses.  It’s very similar to the government laws about grazing or mining on federal property -- old laws based on old assumptions extremely advantageous to the ranchers and miners so they would occupy the “empty” West.  I think this current US trust management payout -- and, even more, the reformed bookkeeping -- will be revelatory.
Of course, the drug providers and cookers don’t care whether there’s violence or not, anymore than the liquor providers -- whether saloon, package store or bootlegger -- care about it.  These forces create violence on the whole continent, the whole hemisphere, the whole planet.  What has to be addressed is a society that can’t be tolerated without a numbed consciousness, that doesn’t know how to celebrate without getting sloshed out of its mind.  Even college kids pride themselves on it.
But here’s the ultimate:  there are people who would like Indians to be portrayed in as ugly a way as possible, keeping alive the nineteenth century idea of child-like savages who must be controlled.  Ultimately, it could be an excuse to close down the reservation as a place where people cannot be safe, where businesses cannot make a profit or even get insurance because of burglary and vandalism, where tourism cannot be sustained because of danger to outsiders, and where there is no leadership.  (As though presently there isn’t a government in the country that isn’t paralyzed by polarization and blaming.)  The BIA has been supposed to put itself out of business for the last fifty years.  
Too many people are believing that the way to survive is to be Number One and that the only way to guarantee that is to be the Last Man Standing, with a woman knocked down at his feet.  But we know -- deep down we really do know -- that unless we have a society that protects and supports the least of us, we can’t survive, because we are all connected.  What happens to one, happens to us all.  That’s where the real cost lies.

(More to come)

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