“Domestic Violence” is a hard movie to watch. Thank goodness for video discs one can watch quietly in a safe place with breaks now and then, though the film itself builds-in intervals of peaceful images, quiet empty spaces. It’s three hours and 15 minutes long, beginning and ending with police interventions into verbal and physical violence. There are no deaths and very little of graphic wounds. There is no exploration of the underculture world of drugs, prostitution, and trafficking. No churches or ministers were included, nor any psychologists, who are there but sequestered by confidentiality. It is not a sensational Hollywood movie. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0305489/ DVD from Netflix.
The sequence goes from police at a family home, to the work of “The Spring,” which is a shelter in Tampa, FL, for women, children and a few men -- very focused and experienced. If you bring them up on your computer http://www.thespring.org , the first thing you see is a reminder that a computer entry can be traced and a red button for “quick escape.” This is not to evade law enforcement, but to keep the contact secret from abusers.
Then we go to the telephone where trained listeners provide information to people needing help. (The number is on the website.) This film is very much about words, the exploration of people’s inner worlds as they can express them. The kids draw pictures. The women’s group emphasizes that they have been harangued, insulted, put down, limited, confined, all their lives -- many times as children by their mothers, and then their partner and even their own children.
But the group leader lets them talk until their assumptions begin to be clear, so as to be challenged. The women are from every level of society. One, reflexively smiling, was married to a college professor who had put her down, mocked her in front of others. As he aged and then retired, he switched to physical abuse. She had accepted the verbal accusations as deserved, but at least was smart enough to recognize physical violence.
Many of the helping women don’t look much different from the clients, but they have a radically different worldview from the abused women. They use the jargon of helpers in our society: choices, helpers, contracts. Finally realizing that their “reality” is not real -- which is hard for the receivers of abuse -- often leads to laughter! So many of these people are smart, tough, hard-working, and protective even of men who go haywire. A few are haywire women, and after evaluation they are shunted to a different kind of care. Some are sassy provocateurs and some are as violent as the men.
Always -- between the women’s child-like insistence on their suffering (which is real) and the men’s insistence on their right to control and dominate (which is aligned with the culture) is the protective interface of the counseling wisdom (leave before violence starts, take charge of yourself, make good choices by thinking things through to the end) and the structured reality of the law thought it doesn’t always address the situation. We watch a lawyer work with women who can’t accept any solution that doesn’t give them their way (which is mostly impossible, like a magical transformation of their husband's basic character) and we watch the cops work with men (often drunk) who also want THEIR way (also impossible). We hear about women, naked and bloodied, running down the street and screaming for help, without anyone so much as calling the police.
The very last case is a man who seems a sort of Sam Elliott -- complete with mustache, accent and righteous posture -- who wants his live-in girl friend removed RIGHT NOW. She’s pretty but older. He says he “loves her to death” which is an unfortunate turn of phrase, and he acts out what seems a reasonable position, a man of means who can no longer tolerate a clinging hysterical woman. Then we go to her, this pretty woman with a bladder infection, a disabled adult child, a grandchild to care for, no income, no relatives in town, and most of all, no sleep. With the cops, they play a game of “why don’t you -- yes but” as described by Eric Berne. The most obvious solution would be for the woman to go to a motel for the night -- if she had money. The man won’t pay. The man refuses to go to his friends, the woman insists her relatives are all out-of-town because it is a three-day weekend, etc. The cops don't quite have enough justification to remove one involuntarily. All these people play this three-cornered game (victim/offender/savior) which keeps the police present, so that the contenders can try to pull them into their own “reality” like little kids each trying to pull their parents to their side of accusations. They talk about “facts”, but little of what they say is factual.
Often, just as cops begin to leave, people tell the real truth. In this case, this man had been so enraged a few days earlier -- though both claimed they’d had good times -- that he shot a rifle at her car when she tried to leave. She called the cops, he was arrested and jailed, and presumably the case is pending which is why he needs her to be in the wrong. But she did stay on in the house, his house. Laws for cohabitation are confused, which is a good reason not to do it. Little kids were involved but not present in these “cop bookend” scenes.
A culture is a constructed world that exists only in heads and with as much pressure from those who have consensus -- the current hegemony -- are willing to fund in the way of social services, cops, lawyers, safe houses, classes and so on. The voters escape many costs by blaming some categories of people, thus shunting them into incarceration where they generate profit and jobs in a way most people don’t want to think about very much. Eventually incarceration reaches its limits and backfires. The lawyer points out that a prison is a place where one learns how to break the law without getting caught. Of course, those “teachers” all failed or they wouldn't be there. But that’s a different movie.
What this way of looking at the movie allows me to say is that recognizing the cultural components of the problem is crucially relevant to rez violence, in ways more vivid than off rez. In the beginning the Siksika world was whole, clear and working with built-in checks and balances until white immigration overwhelmed it with their European hegemony. The idealized memory is still alive. So are the marks of missionaries. Cultures come from the ecological interaction of place (which has stayed the same though now it is threatened by industrial exploitation) and time (which radically changed with the removal of the buffalo). The numbers of people have exploded and changed, still emotionally attached to the here that was “here” before the 19th century.
Sovereignty, if the People are to become whole and sheltered, will mean talking as much as these women, exploring the new reality. It will not emerge from different people insisting on THEIR reality but from trying to find ways to fit all of the assumptions together WITHOUT force or blame. Essentially, it means creating a new world of space and time. What a daunting task! But there is a pressing need and it is demonstrated by the level of violence. It will take historians, activists, medical people, churches, change agents, and ordinary folks. Most of all, it will take pooling resources and listening to each other.