The Realities of Lateral Violence Within Indian Country

Sarah S. Manning

Lateral violence created dissension, competition and jealousy, and is a remnant of cultural genocide tactics

A loved one shared a story with me before, on lateral violence in tribal communities. At the time, I was saddened that there was so much negativity. So much hate. The story of lateral violence is that this type of thinking was manufactured, purposefully, by Indian agents when we were first moved on to the reservation.

Prior to rez life, when we were free, we functioned more cohesively as a tribe. We depended on each other. We shared. We worked together. We cared for one another so deeply. We were virtually unbreakable in our bands.

The only way for the government and namely the Indian agent to break our collective power, was for him to create dissension, competition, and jealousy amongst us. So then was birthed a master plan. Give only some Indians shovels and blankets. Ensure there isn’t enough for everyone. Those at the end of the line leave empty handed.

“Why do they get a shovel?”

“Where is my blanket?”

“Why do they get land?”

“Now they think they’re better than me.”

“They’re not better than me. Did you know that they (fill-in-the-blank).”

…The infighting begins. Our voices became more harsh, and more angry. Our focus became on others, on calling down even our very own relatives. We became disillusioned by competition and comparison.

Flash forward to present day. We carry that residue. We are unhappy. We see some with, and many without, and this is hurtful.

It hurts us to see others rise, because we struggle. So when they do rise, we speak so loudly of our dislike of them. We speak with harsh tones, and harsh words, and we make great effort to bring them down a few pegs. We become fixated on the blessings of others. We become obsessed with bashing them.

And maybe we just don’t like them. So be it.

But there is something especially tragic about the very real realities of lateral violence in tribal communities, considering where it came from, and how much it prevails despite the fact that this is not who our communities were. This should not be who we are.

Our geographic isolation as tribal communities today can be so beautiful and special. That isolation has protected so much of our language, culture, and even our resources.

Yet that same isolation coupled with our history of forced assimilation, loss, and manufactured infighting has also become breeding grounds for toxic gossip and lateral violence that hurts us, and re-traumatizes our communities, over and over. It keeps us stuck.

We will never be happy this way. We will never heal as a community when lateral violence reigns supreme. When bitterness, and scowls, and ugly words become the norm. When we forget how to listen with compassion, and speak with thoughtful words.

I pray so much for healing for our communities, so that we can reach a place where we can understand where this dysfunction comes from. Where we can recognize that this is not who we are. Where we can feel good about ourselves, work together, communicate more positively and effectively, and be happy for one another, to be an actual community of tribal people, where we lift each other, and by doing so, we lift ourselves too.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

This column is almost two years old, and it is still very true to this day. Very well written and passionate. I have been experiencing Lateral Violence at my tribal office job. Most days I want to quit. I have went through proper steps to make the behavior known, and yet I am still ignored. I wanted to post a video to the community to see how they feel about the unethical things going on. But I am scared, and feel alone. It is killing me inside to see the way we treat each other. Sarah you are correct, this is not who we are or who we were meant to be! Thank you for your words.