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Denise Lajimodiere's interest in the Indian boarding school experience began with the stories of her parents. She was an educator for 44 years, working as an elementary school teacher and principal before ending her career recently as as an associate professor of educational leadership at North Dakota State University in Fargo. Her parents were separated from their families and sent to federal government-run boarding schools as children.

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For native american women, sex assault is 'the norm'

Patty Murray left and Sen. Barbara Boxer. It has to be my story. A long-time activist in the fight to protect Native women, Parker had just visited the office of Sen. I felt injured," says Parker, who is an enrolled member of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington State and a tribal vice chair as of last March. Parker says that she couldn't believe that the many letters from Native women that she had forwarded to Murray weren't enough. The letters were "filled with the most horrific stories I had ever heard," explains Parker.

It was in the hallway outside of Murray's office that Parker had a revelation: She realized that she had to set aside her fear and become "the face" and the voice for the issue of Native women and rape. It was not an easy decision.

Parker says that only the knowledge that more Native women would suffer and die could compel her to tell her story — actually three stories — that she had never told publicly before. Within minutes, Parker explained her revelation to Murray, prompting the senator to exclaim, "You're it!

You're it! Parker was told that she was the first tribal leader to testify at such a gathering. She told how she was first raped in the s as a toddler by a man who was never convicted.

'i've never told anyone': stories of life in indian boarding schools

The next story was of witnessing the rape of her aunt by four men who had followed her home to attack her. One in Three Native Women Experience Sexual Violence The House, however, later removed the Senate version's expansion of tribal courts' power to prosecute non-Natives suspected of sexually assaulting Indian women. The two houses are now seeking a compromise. On the country's Indian reservations, more than one in three Native women have experienced rape or attempted rape, according to the Justice Department.

The murder rate for Native women is 10 times the national average. And nowhere is more dangerous than the isolated tribal communities of Alaska, where the rate of sexual violence is 12 times the national average.

While the figure is under dispute, the Justice Department also maintains that 86 percent of rapes of Indian women are committed by non-Indians. Sixty-five Percent of Reported Rapes are not Prosecuted Data for show that the federal government, which has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes in Indian country, did not pursue rape charges 65 percent of the time and rejected 61 percent of child sexual abuse cases.

Reasons cited in news reports include inadequate staff power, evidence that is misplaced or destroyed, and lack of cooperation between federal and tribal law enforcement. In addition, the Indian Health Service has few hospitals that treat rape cases, and those facilities that do deal with rape suffer from a dearth of trained personnel to gather evidence.

Sexual violence among native women: a public health emergency

Other factors include family breakdown, alcohol and drug abuse, and issues of "blood" that cast confusion on who is an Indian and who is not, affecting enforcement and jurisdiction. In truth, most rapes are not reported at all, because of the dismal track record for prosecutions as well as victims' fear that they will be ostracized by family and tribal members.

Says Parker, "No one wants tell on their uncle, their father, their cousin.

Deer believes that the biggest contributor to sexual violence and lack of prosecution is not on media's list of legal and social factors. It has become normalized…There is a system in Indian country where rapists can rape with impunity. Rape comes from a sinister perspective on women.

Under federal Indian policy, Native children in the s through the early s were removed from their families and sent to boarding schools where they were subjected to overcrowding, disease, overwork and painful punishments for speaking their own language. Both federal facilities and missionary schools were in operation. In addition, sexual assault by priests and nuns on their unprotected, captive students left deep scars.

Since victims of sexual assault who don't get help can become perpetrators themselves, that pain is still being played out today, she explains. Interviews with Native women across America support Deer's assertion that rape has become "normalized" on reservations.

The women overwhelmingly reported that few, if any, close female friends and relatives have escaped sexual violence. Parker says, "There are so many beautiful young Native women" who have been sexually assaulted.

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They seem to be without hope. There is a wound where the women activists, teachers, nurses, doctors and tribal chairs should be. Parker says that this loss of women's power is felt in both matrilineal tribes, like the Tulalip, and in patrilineal tribes. And the unwillingness of victims to talk about their experiences has resulted in daughters who are afraid and don't know why.

On a broader level, Deer asserts, a combination of remedies is needed.

She also supports "the empowerment of Native women in their own communities" and the allocation of "funding and other resources that allow Native women to tackle the issue on their own terms. It will be deed by women survivors of sexual assault who have the support of their communities.