It had been the perfect day. My boyfriend had taken me to sunny Riverside to meet his parents and their lovable Weimaraner, Clancy. On the drive home, I remembered something from my childhood.
“My family almost got a Weimaraner, too,” I recalled. “But we thought they were kind of ugly, so we opted for a Great Dane instead.”
It seemed an innocuous enough comment, though in retrospect telling a guy his dog is ugly could be right up there with insulting his mother or something. But even that did not justify the torrent of anger that consumed the entire hour-long drive home. Words no one had ever spoken to me before torpedoed out of his mouth.
“Cunt!” “Fucking bitch!” “Idiot!” he screamed at me, unleashing his own dogs of hell on this terrified and captive audience of one. I had to fight the overwhelming urge to open the car door and jump out onto the rushing freeway to escape this verbal attack.
I felt emotionally battered, bloodied and bruised. Tomorrow, I thought, I’d break up with him. The intensity of his anger wasn’t normal. And it scared me. Yes, I was new in town and hadn’t made many friends yet. But I vowed to find my own way without him … as I always had before we’d met.
My fighting, independent spirit was speaking to me even then, banging the wake-up drum. Regretfully, I would ignore it.
The next day he called with his tail between his legs.
“I really overreacted. I’m so sorry, Babe,” he said.
I accepted his heartfelt and sincere apology, and with it, I took that first step into the rabbit hole of love and denial. Down, down, down I would spiral into what was supposed to be a wonderland, losing perspective—and my beautiful spirit—along the way.
It is this sacred female spirit that Gloria Champion wants to remind every abused woman that she must protect. For 21 years, Champion was the executive director of Home for Women and Children, a nonprofit shelter on the Navajo reservation. As Champion was helping hundreds of Native and non-Native women heal and gather the strength they needed to leave their abusers, she too was healing from a sexual assault.
Through the prayers and songs of a Navajo medicine man, the Comanche native had a life-changing experience.
“I saw this beautiful Plains native woman dancing before me in a white buckskin, and the lower part was a jingle dress,” recalled Champion in a recent interview. “I could just feel her purity.”
A spirit was speaking to her, she said, urging her to keep watching.
“She was so pure and continued to dance with this beautiful eagle plume, then joined with my spine and became one with me,” Champion said. “For the first time in my life, I could feel what it was like to never be sexually abused, to never have been beaten or tossed aside.”
Champion said that all women are pure and have a great beauty but have forgotten about their own empowerment.
“In the Navajo tradition, women were thought of as sacred and strong,” she said. “A lot of victims told me that this spiritual practice of honoring women was the first thing that went out the door when they were being beaten, because they believed what the abuser was saying to them.”
Her message to all abused women: “It’s really way overdue that all women—not just Natives—reawaken and reaffirm their sacred power, and if you feel it slipping away, grab onto it quickly!”
Let’s help empower each other by keeping the conversation going about domestic violence. We invite you to share your story of abuse with us on Twitter at #WhyThisNativeStayed and #WhyThisNativeLeft, as part of the campaign started by CNN a few weeks ago, #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft.
Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.