“People do whatever they want to do until someone stops them.”
“If you do something outrageous enough, people just won’t believe it’s happening.”
-- Bob Scriver
“Crime can never be eliminated. But it’s a continuum and anything that helps to push events towards the end that is good for everyone, that’s what you do. It can be something small and simple.” -- Mike Burgwin
I keep these bits of wisdom in mind when I try to think about things like child abuse. No need to start at the end that has ghastly child torture and death. Start at the end with bullying, mocking, mobbing. Start by talking to kids, laughing at their jokes but not their ideas. And by talking I mean “conversation,” so that means going both ways. I have had a hard time learning not to be sarcastic. It is a way of controlling. I didn't think it was violence, but it was.
Child abuse is a WORLDWIDE problem, not just a reservation problem. Mostly it is propelled by economics, first by making it too expensive to prevent the birth of unwanted children, and then by preventing their proper care after they are born. There are many parts of the world now where children are simply sold because they are the only asset the starving family has. Incredible income disparity means that there are people who can afford to buy a child (NOT adopt) as though it were a toy and use it however they choose because they can buy the silence of anyone who might interfere. These rich people were often abused and neglected as children themselves and are deformed as human beings, but again they can buy off anyone who criticizes them or tries to control them. They are so incredibly rich that they can buy an island as a hideout or bribe an entire country.
Increased awareness of global problems has psyched out many of us to the point of being afraid to take on local child abuse. Our main defense is just not to know what’s happening, to ignore the signs, to not know the signs, to build a little fort of not-seeing. We don’t want to realize how many people -- frustrated, bored, feeling helpless, drunk, high -- will take it out on kids. We want to think that pedophiles are monsters who kill toddlers and therefore we don’t see the adolescents ensnared by drugs/money/dependence/self-hatred. Encouraging boys to imitate cage-fighting in alleys while men bet on them is child abuse. Providing kegs of beer for high school parties is child abuse. Expecting some useless half-grown guy to be a babysitter is child neglect. Pretending to babysit a child while getting drunk is criminal behavior.
Nor are we good at knowing what to do about, watching out for each other, and devising solutions. We go to extremes: KILL and CONFINE and use the punishments on the victims, blaming them.
Piegan moms at the train depot in the Thirties.
What are the small and simple things anyone can do? Intervene when you see someone teasing a small child. (You could at least glare at them!) Talk to teenagers wherever they are. Empower women. Find work. If there are no paid jobs, devise unpaid jobs: every now and then someone is inspired to clear trash or cut wood for stoves. Why should we expect missionaries from Iowa to do our maintenance? Form small friendship groups, maybe for sharing stories or drumming. Sit in on public trials and council meetings and attend school events, including parent/teacher conferences, even if you think you might be criticized. Learn something, maybe with the help of an elder. Instead of passively watching television, learn how to actively use a computer -- with the help of a kid. Keep a journal about your nabe: dates, times, car licenses.
There is no antibiotic that can heal the damage done by neglect and abuse in the earliest years of life, but there are strategies that can help explain and support resilience, the ability to withstand hardships. Those workshops move around the state but are often taught by Blackfeet people. Whenever they are near enough, go -- take notes, tell your neighbors, think about the old ways.
Siksika in 1909
It’s tough to reinstate the traditional ways of people who lived in bands, always moving but always together in related groups of known people. Now people live scattered among their ranch allotments or maybe in housing developments of unrelated people. How else could it be that a woman was murdered and stored in her own crawl space without anyone noticing? But there are also roving predators full of drugs and violence that authority figures can’t seem to address. In the old days the Crazy Dogs would go to their lodge, dismantle it, destroy the contents, and evict such people from the group. We don’t do that in the US today. Anyway, many don’t really live anywhere, don’t own anything but a drug stash.
Authorities get tied up two ways: one is lack of money in a place so large that just keeping a cop car running and fueled costs plenty. The other is the cat’s cradle of jurisdiction law that provides too many loopholes. Both of these are hard to address by an ordinary person trying to get along in life, but they are not impossible. Many people both on and off the rez have ideas about consolidation of authority. The hard part is maintaining sovereignty in a world where drug gangs from South America can easily hide on the rez, adjacent to a border with another country, in a place that has had hideouts since the days of the whiskey runners taking advantage of the Medicine Line. Too many people confuse reform with control.
The lives of children trump jurisdiction. Sovereignty is as much about protection as about domination, about inclusion as much as exclusion.
I’m being presumptuous to say “we” but I’ve been around here more than fifty years now. Didn’t I dance the Owl Circle Dance of Inclusion at the end of Indians Days so long ago that there was a bonfire in the middle of the arena?