Indigenous Women's Training Draws Many to Syracuse, Powerful Bonds Formed at Training on Violence Against Women

The noted Native pageant contestant is competing to join Greenpeace on an expedition to the Arctic and North Pole.

The noted Native pageant contestant is competing to join Greenpeace on an expedition to the Arctic and North Pole.

The National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, Inc. (NIWRC) recently collaborated with the Haudenosaunee Coalition for Women's Empowerment (HCWE) to convene “Honoring Mother Earth: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Communities,” a Region 4 training in Syracuse, New York. The purpose of the training was to network, build advocacy skills, address trauma in tribal communities, and strengthen sovereignty to increase safety for Indian women and children.

Haudenosaunee (“People of the Longhouse”) nations include Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk and Tuscarora. They are more commonly known as the Six Nations of the Iroquois and represent territories throughout New York State, Wisconsin, Ontario and Quebec.

“The nations of the Haudenosaunee are renowned for their matrilineal leadership and strong traditions. We can all learn from the Haudenosaunee people about honoring our mothers and strengthening our tribal communities,” said Lucy Simpson, NIWRC executive director.

According to NIWRC’s Gwendolyn Packard, some 70 participants from more than 25 tribes and First Nations attended the three-day training. Women of all ages and men represented such Native nations as Micmac, Cherokee, Lakota, Passamaquoddy, Seneca, Mohawk, Onondaga, Chippewa and Tewa, to name a few. Mohawk Nation Bear Clan Mother Tewakierahkwa Louise McDonald gave a traditional opening on the first morning, delivering a beautiful Kanienkehaka version of Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen, the “Words That Come Before All Else.” These words set a peaceful tone for what would become a powerful gathering of minds determined to reclaim the wounded spirits of Indigenous women.

“This was one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to,” said Lorraine White, Family Stabilization Program Director with the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center. “The healing that took place was tremendous; there was trust, openness, acceptance and safety here.”

The collaboration with HCWE coincided with the introduction of its new executive director, Amie Barnes, a Mohawk of Akwesasne. Barnes, a Victim Advocate with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Three Sisters Program, is partnering with other organizations to raise awareness of efforts to combat sexual and domestic violence in Haudenosaunee communities.

“It was very important for our coalition to participate in this training by NIWRC,” said Barnes. “We made some great connections and strengthened existing relationships by experiencing this event together.”

Joining Barnes as guest presenters were Lisa Brunner, executive director of Sacred Spirits First Nations Coalition; and Carrie E. Garrow, HCWE president and director of the Center for Indigenous Law, Governance & Citizenship at Syracuse University. Also speaking were Konon:kwe Council members Katsi Cook, renowned aboriginal midwife and reproductive justice advocate; Beverly Cook, SART/SANE; and Karonienhawi Thomas, St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police Special Investigator.

The Akwesasne-based group works to restore the power of their Haudenosaunee origins through collaborative approaches to the care, empowerment and transformation of their traumatized community. Attendees discussed the close relationship between genocide, historical trauma and high rates of abuse in Indian country, acknowledging the value of incorporating trauma-informed care across tribal services and programs to substantively address issues of violence.

“As a tribal leader, you don't know what these trainings will entail until you get there,” said Phillip A. Perez, Governor of Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico. “It's important for leadership to get involved. We have to see for ourselves so we can incorporate and implement the ideas we shared.”

During the conclusion, Governor Perez was acknowledged by women from the Tewa delegation for attending the training and hearing firsthand the women’s stories of abuse and trauma. He said the experience was humbling. “To actually hear it from a survivor, to witness the vulnerability of the women ... you think, ‘It's not relevant in our area,’” he said. “But now we know differently.”

Dedicated to restoring safety to Native women by upholding the sovereignty of Indian and Alaska Native tribes, the NIWRC is a Native nonprofit organization that was created specifically to serve as the National Indian Resource Center (NIRC) Addressing Domestic Violence and Safety for Indian Women, as mandated by the federal Family Violence Prevention Services Act. For more information, visit www.niwrc.org.