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Exposing the Invisible: Stalking in Indian Country

Ever feel you’re being watched?

Most Americans don’t pay attention to their surroundings as they go about their daily business, but that’s not an option for the more than 3.4 million who become stalking victims each year.

Thirty-three percent of stalking victims are Native American, more than any other race or ethnicity, according to the U.S. Department of Justice report, “Stalking Victimization in the United States.”

Tamela Dawson’s stalking began soon after breaking up with the wrong man.

“It started with psychological warfare,” Dawson, of Cherokee descent, says. She came home to rearranged furniture, crotches torn from her underwear. She told a friend she needed a soup ladle and one appeared soon after in her dishwasher. A noise campaign ensued. She woke in a drugged state to multiple men in her room. Her physical therapist saw bruises.

“Get out of Santa Rosa,” police told her. “We cannot protect you. Go home to your family.” She moved home to Arkansas after her hired bodyguard turned to her, furious, asking what she’d done, if she’d testified against any one – because, he said, gang members were stalking her house.

When President Obama proclaimed January National Stalking Awareness Month Jan. 17, Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and congressional staffers that the designation will aid their efforts to “prevent violence against women, empower victims, and hold the perpetrators accountable and bring them to justice.”

Stalking is not a single, identifiable act but a series of actions meant to cause fear in the target. Some states define it to include lying-in-wait, surveillance, nonconsensual communication, telephone harassment or vandalism.

It takes the form of theft, kidnapping and arson, killing pets, breaking and entering, and gaslighting – when perpetrators steal or hide insignificant items or make changes in a victim’s home to make them think they’re going crazy.

Ann Dapice, Ph.D., a Lenape/Cherokee is director of Education and Research at T.K. Wolf, Inc., an American Indian stalking authority. Her agency has listened to victims report all of these methods.

The DoJ study also measured unwanted calls, texts, e-mails, notes or gifts, cyberstalking, and posting information or spreading falsehoods about the victim on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.

Stalkers use technology like satellite global position systems (GPS), computers, or hidden cameras to track the daily activities of one in four victims. “Roving bug” programs can be installed into a cell phone to listen through its microphone, even when the phone is off.

Dawson says her stalkers drugged and implanted her with a tracking microchip. Her story is credible. Kits from the manufacturer Schering Plough that let you inject a tracking implant into pets with a hypodermic needle then track them with a handheld scanner sell on popular sites such as Amazon.

Victims often report such bizarre behaviors they have trouble convincing others that it is happening – including the professional assigned to help them.

Agencies and the law often categorize stalking as domestic violence, limiting services to ‘known intimates.’ Yet this group represents only 30.3 percent of victims. ‘Known others,’ like co-workers, relatives, classmates, and neighbors account for 45.1 percent. A surprising one in four does not know their stalkers. Some is organized, proxy or vigilante stalking. Others hide behind hired individuals who do their harassment for them.

“There are people who stalk relationships, people who stalk in order to do revenge, people who stalk political and entertainment figures,” says Dapice. “There is group and proxy stalking. There are different motives but whatever it is, it is always a power play.”

Stalkers will follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another – making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute their crimes. “Often moving makes no difference,” says Dapice. “Stalkers will walk around a neighborhood and tell lies and stories about their victims.”

Dawson thought being home in Arkansas would provide safety from her stalkers. But at her new job, “One day everyone loved me and I was doing a stellar job. The next day nobody would talk to me. People glared and stared at me, good people.”

She realized the stalking had followed her when an elderly man passed her on the street and said, ‘You are disgusting.’

“I was so traumatized I didn’t know where to start.” Dawson’s gaslighting incidents continue. Her story is remarkably similar to that of Vicki Burnett, a Minnesota Chippewa who lives in Nevada, and Elizabeth Buchanan and Diane Dillon, both Metis women living in British Columbia, Canada, who also report having had sonic devices used to ward off animals trained on them from a distance, and radar devices that measure a car or baseball’s speed that cause great discomfort when aimed at humans.

Most of the violence in Indian country has been non-Natives against Natives, and not because stalking victims are on tribal lands, Dapice says. “No one, Indian or non-Indian who is stalked gets any help.” Worse, some people blame the victims so they are afraid to come out of the closet.

Men make up 27 percent of stalking victims, and are often doubly victimized “because police will say ‘what’s wrong with you, why can’t you protect yourself?’” Dapice said the police blame the judges, and the judges blame the system. “Everyone blames everyone else and eventually it’s somebody else’s fault, and nothing gets done.”

After Michael Jellema’s stalking began five years ago in Michigan, when a certain segment of the community learned he was an Alaska Bristol Bay Native Corporation shareholder, his health dramatically declined. He’s been targeted with tactics similar to those used by the Ku Klux Klan but updated to reflect today’s technology, the same Dawson and the other unrelated cases complain of.

Communities that understand stalking and support its victims help to combat the crime. The only thing that’s going to stop it, says Dapice, “is peer pressure.” Don’t accept lies or rumors that generate hate about the victim.

If a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member thinks they’re being stalked, encourage them to take it seriously and get help. If you or someone you know is a victim, visit the National Stalking Awareness Month and the National Center for Victims of Crime for information and links to state and regional resources. Or contact your local women’s crisis center.

If more people learn to recognize what stalking is there is a much better chance to protect victims and prevent tragedies.

RELATED:Addressing Stalking in Native American Communities