News & Events


February 10, 2016

Addressing Violence against Women in Native Communities

IMAG0031The third meeting of the Indigenous Research Collaborative to End Violence took place Sept. 14-15, 2015 at the Talaris Center near the Univ. of Washington campus in Seattle. Meeting attendees were primarily Indigenous women researchers. They were academics, professors, community leaders and experts with invaluable insights and expertise, and they hailed from all over: from New Zealand to Alaska, Hawai’i to Nepal. Although their backgrounds and interests were diverse, they were united by a shared sense of urgency to address issues of violence among Indigenous communities. Tess Abrahamson-Richards (Spokane), Research Coordinator at the Center for Indigenous Health Research, notes that the main goal of this conference was for Indigenous health researchers to assemble with pointed intentionality in order to 1) formalize collaborative efforts, 2) crystalize shared interests and 3) identify barriers to action that may be limiting their capacity to address issues related to Indigenous health and wellness.
 The conference was an intense two-day experience punctuated by electric conversations exploring how to best integrate Indigenist practices and ideals within the rigid confines of institutions like academia and research in order to better serve native communities. This meeting represented a forum for establishing and strengthening connections, for tackling barriers associated with doing strong work in Native communities, for providing and receiving invaluable feedback about current works in progress and for forging future partnerships. Some of the discussions covered heavy topics such as elder abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence and damaging childhood experiences that linger and continue to cause mental and physical harm even into adulthood.
ValliKanuha Dr. Val Kalei Kanuha, who hails from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, vocalized a sentiment that was shared and echoed by many in attendance, “[We must] make a relative out of the pain because that is the only way to catalyze healing.” Dr. Kanuha notes that it is critical for researchers, community leaders and direct service providers to honor Native histories, languages and traditions in order to conduct trauma-informed work and ultimately promote community healing.
 A common and refreshing theme that was present in the anecdotes and personal experiences about addressing these issues was a thoughtfulness and willingness to embrace nuance in order to more dynamically and sincerely work with Native groups. Indigenous communities, in particular, possess unique assets that embolden them to be resilient, graceful and dignified as they work together to undo centuries of historical trauma. As the conference came to a close, there was a buzz in the air—a feeling of invigoration. Something is about to happen. Something is already happening and that “something” is change—change that is driven by innovative and spirited thinkers who are unafraid to challenge convention in order to promote healing in Native communities.

Funding for the collaborative was provided by the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, (Lucy Rain Simpson [Navajo], Executive Director; Gwendolyn Packard [Ihanktonwan Dakota], Program Specialist). Additional funding through the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute’s Community Engagement and Outreach Core (principal investigator Bonnie Duran) was provided by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number P60MD006909.