Gathering nurtures growing network, honors sacred turtle women

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OAKLAND, Calif. – The seventh annual Women Are Sacred Conference drew more than 200 people from across the nation who work for the safety of Indian women. The yearly gathering, held June 12 – 14, focuses on initiatives and training for state and tribal organizations, governments, agencies and community members.

“This conference continues to provide Native women, advocates, law enforcement, tribal leaders, prosecutors, judges, dispatchers, clerks of court, health care providers, social workers and community members a unique opportunity to gain and exchange information, share struggles and solutions, and nurture a growing network to end violence against Native women,” said Karen Artichoker, director of Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women.

The topics chosen for the conference are the result of requests received for technical assistance, consultation and training taken from grassroots advocates, research, studies and national issues.

“The conference utilizes Native expertise to implement culturally-based strategies and materials,” said Jerry Gardner, executive director of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.

“The conference recognizes a belief that women are sacred,” said Terri Henry, principal director of Clan Star. “This knowledge combined with the understanding that tribal sovereignty and the safety of Native women are directly linked to one another is the philosophical foundation of this conference.”

“It was an honor to work in partnership with these dedicated organizations. Through our partnership we are able to continue progressing toward a time when Native women will once again be safe. The participation in the workshops was inspirational,” said Tina Olson of Mending the Sacred Hoop.

The National Congress of American Indians established a Task Force on Violence Against Native Women in 2003. For the last seven years, this task force has participated in the national effort to reauthorize and fully fund the Violence Against Women Act.

“The Women Are Sacred Conference is an essential component that advocates and tribal leaders rely upon to be informed about important national and legislative effort,” said Juana Majel-Dixon, NCAI Pacific area vice president. “The conference was an important launch for our efforts to fully fund the Violence Against Women Act, reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and pass into law the Tribal Law and Order Act this year.”

“You play a critical role of connecting tribal communities to urgent national initiatives that can increase the sovereignty of Indian tribes and safety of American Indian and Alaska Native women,” Artichoker told the attendees.

“Conference topics are chosen as a result of requests received for technical assistance, consultation and training, in addition to issues emanating from grassroots advocates, research, studies and national issues. The conference utilizes Native expertise to implement culturally-based strategies and materials,” Gardner said.

The turtle was declared the symbol of the movement to end violence against Native women. It was proposed during last year’s conference by White Buffalo Calf Woman Society Director Tillie Black Bear of the Rosebud Sioux Reservation as a symbol of strength.

“The spirit of the turtle is feminine, embodying fertility, patience, nurturing, longevity, fortitude, calmness and resiliency. The body of the turtle’s shell carries the marks of 13 moons. The edge of the turtle’s shell carries the marks of 28 days. These marks represent the life cycle of women and Mother Earth. The turtle retreats into the quiet protection of its shell, re-energizes and then emerges, moving forward into the world. These are the attributes of women and Mother Earth,” Black Bear said.

“The strength and wisdom of the turtle is needed as we struggle against and survive the violence aimed at us because we are women. Every woman who experiences violence is recognized as a Sacred Turtle Woman. In the spirit of the turtle, we reclaim and celebrate the strength, wisdom and sacredness of the feminine spirit within women,” Artichoker said.

The Women Are Sacred Conference is a national initiative sponsored by four tribal nonprofits to educate tribal advocates, leaders, women and service providers on issues affecting the safety of Native women. The first conference was held in 1998. Since 2005, Sacred Circle, Mending the Sacred Hoop, the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and Clan Star, Inc. have hosted the annual Women Are Sacred Conferences.