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Bethany Wesley, Forum Communications Co., Published April 24 2012

Tribal college to show documentary, host talk on Indian sexual violence

CASS LAKE, Minn. – An American Indian woman is twice more likely than all other races to be raped or sexually assaulted.

One in three will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

Those statistics from the Department of Justice are the focus of a 2010 documentary titled “Rape on the Reservation,” to be shown at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Drum Room at the Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake.

Following the documentary, which examined life on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, the sensitive topic will be discussed, with local experts fielding questions and providing assistance for those who want help.

Vanguard, a documentary series from Current TV, addressed sexual assault by visiting the Rosebud reservation, a 1,400-square-mile reservation with about 10,000 residents.

Indians in South Dakota, the documentary reported, comprise 9 percent of the state’s population, but they represent 40 percent of all sexual assault cases in the state.

Jolene Engelking, volunteer coordinator with the Anishinabe Equay Program through the Sexual Assault Program of Beltrami, Cass & Hubbard Counties, said the Indian population locally comprises 15 to 20 percent of the population but more than half of the clients served through her program are Indian.

“They are disproportionately high numbers,” she said.

The 45-minute “Rape on the Reservation” highlights the murder of 19-year-old Marquita, whose body was found naked, beaten and strangled with her hands tied behind her back. Her alleged attacker was a 17-year-old high school classmate.

While interviewing classmates at her high school, students described their lives with absentee parents off drinking and gambling while the kids themselves party every weekend.

The girls said that while they go to the parties, they don’t allow themselves to get too drunk, “ ’Cause something bad will happen.”

Another classmate, Antonio, who co-founded a gang there, talks about boys trying to get girls drunk to sleep with them.

How often does this happen? Every weekend.

Antonio later says he doesn’t think it’s any harder to grow up on the reservation than other places; in fact, he thinks it is easier.

“I guess it would be hard if you’re prey,” he said. But the reservation makes it easier for predators, Antonio said. “Natural hunting ground, I guess. Home court advantage.”

The students all attend St. Francis High School, an all-Indian school on the reservation. Only half of those enrolled graduate.

Non-reporting of crimes on reservations is rampant, according to the documentary. While the FBI investigates serious crimes such as rape and murder, they rely on already-burdened tribal police for assistance.

Further, speculates Donna, one of the women profiled in the documentary, “I think a lot of it has to do with retaliation.”

Many of those on the reservation come from large, close families. If a female accuses a male of rape, he has a brother who might go after her or her family. And even if the brother goes to jail, he has another brother and even more friends with brothers of their own.

Donna, who at first tried to prosecute her attacker, eventually dropped the charge and moved three hours away from the reservation, leaving her husband and children behind.

“I know I’ll never forget what happened or who it was … but I want to keep on living,” she said.


Bethany Wesley writes for the Bemidji Pioneer.