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Associated Press, Published April 01 2013

ND reservation, sex abuse focus of 2-part PBS documentary

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Robin Poor Bear was reluctant to speak out about the sexual abuse she said she experienced as a child living with an adoptive family.

But ultimately Poor Bear, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who lives on the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota, decided to share her story in a two-part PBS documentary, "Kind Hearted Woman," in hopes of helping other abuse survivors.

The documentary, from filmmaker David Sutherland, airs Monday and Tuesday.

"It affected my personal relationship. It affected my decision making. It affected my parenting. It affected everything," Poor Bear said of the abuse she described at the hands of her adoptive family.

"Kind Hearted Woman" follows the 32-year-old woman as she attempts to earn a degree in social work, find a new man to love, navigate the tribal court system and overcome her addiction to alcohol.

Poor Bear's story is not uncommon. Native American women suffer incidents of domestic violence at rates more than double national averages, according to the Department of Justice. And the Spirit Lake Tribe was accused last year of failing to protect vulnerable children from sexual abuse. The Bureau of Indian Affairs took over control of the child protection services in October.

Poor Bear worried that she would lose her adopted family if she spoke out about the abuse — but the heartache was worth it, she said.

"Whatever I go through in this film — the good, the bad, the in-between — it's all worth it if it helped one person," she said. "It's a lonely path when you don't have anybody asking, 'How are things going?' and truly mean it."

Over time, Sutherland became a friend, she added. "He was the person who honestly cared, truly cared," she said.

Sutherland, whose previous film credits include "The Farmer's Wife" and "Country Boys," said he initially did not want to feature Poor Bear in the film.

"She was crying. She was a wreck, and I thought she was too passive," he said.

But he stayed in touch with her and eventually decided to follow Poor Bear and her two children.

"My goal is that you care about her," he said.