The hearts of the women: why violence against indigenous women is genocidal

There is a reason that rape is a weapon of war and genocide. There is truth to the Cheyenne proverb, “A Nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground. Then it’s finished; no matter how brave it’s warriors or how strong their weapons”.

In her essay, Rib Cage: The Aftermath of Violence, Helen Knott writes:

My sexual assaults have always been an off-limit topic with Dad. They are ghosts that exist in his peripheral. He will never look at them straight in the eyes because that would make them real.

Knott is an incredibly powerful writer and the author of In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience. (The Pemberton Library has it available to borrow on e-book.)

Her blog introduces her as Helen Knott, of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and Euro descent from Prophet River First Nations, living in Northeastern B.C.. Helen is a Masters in FN Studies student at UNBC currently and holds a Bachelors Degree in Social Work.

Helen began her blog in the third year of her social work degree to chronicle her decolonization journey and she has continued writing there, and elsewhere, in order to share what lessons, insights, and challenges she has experienced. She was once taught that teachings are not yours until you give them away so her words are a part of her offering back to the people.

Rib Cage is her latest offering, and it’s not something I can do justice to with a 50 word summary. For those of us who might ever had the thought “wow, there’s a lot of disfunction in that community”, this offering is a chance to move from standing on the outside with a little judgment in our eyes, to sitting on the inside and understanding how much has been endured and how every single person needs to be at their very best to move our society towards healing. All of us. Especially those of us standing on the outside, still hosting the colonized idea that people who suffer probably generally brought it on themselves.

Lyla June has said this too – that violence against indigenous women and girls has been a way to destroy the men, to suck all the resistance out of them, and it struck me deeply – because she unpacked it even further, tracing her unacknowledged European history back, to connect the dots that “some of the first Indigenous People’s that were forced into hiding were the medicine women of Old Europe. They estimate that 6-9 million women were raped, beaten, tortured, burned alive or drowned alive for being ‘witches.’” I’ve read this idea recently – that the settlers who fled the old world for the new were often trailing ghosts of these traumas, and those unresolved traumas often caused them to behave as oppressors when they landed here. (Check out Resmaa Manakem or Stephen Jenkinson or Daniel Foor if this line of inquiry is intriguing to you.)

Trauma therapist and author of My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem, explores the connection between black trauma and white trauma in an On Being podcast from earlier this year.

The healing of the world today might depend on all of us acknowledging these traumas. So we can understand the parts we play in systematic racism, not with our own actual out-loud thoughts and intentions, but with our bodies, our cellular memory, our nervous systems, with the responses we unconsciously make to “threats” we unknowingly identify.

Helen Knott explores it in this personal memoir. Start with this. Read it. It’s powerful. And important work.

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