Hundreds of stories from survivors of rape and abuse will be on display at the Oklahoma Capitol on Thursday as part of an effort to draw attention to the high statistics of abuse against Native American women.
The stories, about 450 collected so far, appear on quilt squares. Together they make up the Monument Quilt, a massive public demonstration about violence against women in America.
"We've been collecting quilt squares from survivors from across the U.S., and so by stitching their stories together, we're creating and demanding public space to heal," said Rebecca Nagle with FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture.
Native American women suffer from the highest rate of sexual assault in the country, and 80 percent of those assaults are committed by non-Natives.
The Baltimore-based group has been collecting stories from rape and sexual assault survivors, their loved ones and their supporters from across the U.S. for about a year and a half, Nagle said, and the quilt will ultimately be displayed at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in a few years.
The organization is now working in conjunction with the Norman, Oklahoma-based Native Alliance Against Violence (NAAV), the coalition of tribal domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Oklahoma, for this week's event at the Capitol. "It's a chance for people to come together from across the state to talk about the state of sexual violence in Indian country," Nagle said.
According to statistics from the federal government, American Indian women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races. More than one in three Native American women will be raped in their lifetime, and the vast majority of crimes are committed by non-Natives.
One of the main reasons for such alarming statistics is jurisdictional issues, Nagle said.
Though the reauthorization of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act gave tribes the power to prosecute non-Native Americans who commit crimes of domestic violence and stalking on Native land, it does not cover rape and sexual assault, Nagle said. "So when it comes to restoring tribal sovereignty, we still have a lot of work to do," she added.
Such policies are the result of continued dehumanization of Native people, she said.
"We're still in a place in the U.S. where Native people aren't seen as people, so I think that when people are dehumanized – any group of people are dehumanized – its rates of violence against them are going to be higher because it's easier to assault people you don't see as people," she said.
Dawn Stover, executive director of the NAAV, echoed Nagle's comments, saying there is a lot that must be done at the societal level as well as the federal level to lower the statistics.
A staggering 39 percent of Native women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
She said everyone can send a clear message that sexual violence will not be tolerated by teaching silence doesn't equal consent; by not blaming victims; by not participating in behaviors that objectify women; by challenging messages in the media; and by supporting the men and women working to end sexual violence and supporting the victims of sexual violence.
This is not the first time that FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture has worked with tribes. During a 13-city tour last summer, events and quilt displays were held in conjunction with three tribal communities and organizations, including the Oklahoma-based Quapaw Tribe and the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
"That was really powerful for us because, as you may know, the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society is the first domestic violence shelter on a Native American reservation. It has a really important history in the movement," Nagle said.
Thursday's event will feature tribal leaders, state legislators, advocates and survivors speaking at the Oklahoma State Capitol Building rotunda from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. followed by a viewing of the quilt on the East Lawn from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Survivors and their supporters can share their stories. On Friday, the display will move on to Tulsa in conjunction with the Muscogee Creek Nation.