By Cheryl Cedar Face
MHA Times Editor
“Where were you when VAWA was passed?” The first act of “Sliver of a Full Moon” sent chills down my spine. The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act had brought tears to my eyes on that sunny day in 2013, and I remembered the rush of emotions as I sat in the crowded Grand Ballroom listening to the actors describe their reactions to the news.
I was living in a Washington, D.C. suburb at the time, working as a writer for the American Indian Report while attending George Mason University. VAWA had been an important milestone in my life, as it had been for many Native American women. The sense of victory, however tempered by the knowledge that it was a step, and not a complete solution, has never waned.
The reauthorization signified an important step toward tribal sovereignty. It signified an important step toward protecting Native American women. It signified to me, as an Oglala Lakota woman who had just undergone an agonizing and drawn-out trial to put my rapist behind bars, that I would be better protected if there was a “next time.” And as a Native woman, I knew there might be a next time.
My story is no different than thousands of Native people living in North America. I had grown up in abject poverty, and fell victim to exploitation several times during my early adulthood. It is a story that so many Native men and women share, but is so rarely talked about. Silence can be as damaging as violence, as difficult to shake free from. But, as Linda Thompson, director of the First Nations Women’s Alliance, said before the play, “Chances of healing are increased by telling the truth.”
Simply sharing your story is not easy, however. It takes time to come to terms with traumatic events. Even then, there risks associated with such honesty. As recently as last summer, an individual attempted to blackmail and shame me with their knowledge of my assault. It is a situation unfamiliar to many survivors.
When, three or four years ago, I finally felt strong enough to tell my story, I was asked how I could talk about it so easily. “I’ve told the story a thousand times in my head,” I replied.
We do each other no favors by pretending assault, domestic violence, and all other forms of abuse happen to someone else, somewhere else. By supporting plays like “Sliver of a Full Moon,” we give voice to the voiceless. We give support to those who feel they have nowhere to turn. We help each other heal.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to the people, like Sadie Young Bird and all those working for the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence, who stand up to the scourge of hurt and silence. We owe a great deal of thanks to those like Chalsey Snyder, who was responsible for writing the first human trafficking legislation in North Dakota. We owe a great deal to the countless men and women who break the silence. Who do great things on a daily basis for their tribes, their nations, and the country as a whole.
By sharing my story, I hope to help break the cycle of silence. There is no limit to what you can become. Be it an advocate, a playwright, an actor, or an editor, trauma does not have to define any of us.