October 27, 2016
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Native Journalist Confronts Rapes In Her Past


CINCINNATI, OH - Writing about the new Tribal Law and Order Act, designed to curb sexual violence on reservations, became personal for Mary Annette Pember, an independent journalist and a former president of the Native American Journalists Association.

"I’ve come to Minnesota to attend a full moon ceremony that is being offered by an ad hoc group of advocates to help women in the healing process," Pember wrote for the September issue of the Progressive magazine. "Before the ceremony, I visit a spiritual leader from my lodge who lives in the area. She cautions me that I must first work on healing myself before working on this story. Presciently, she predicts I will soon hit a wall in my project that will challenge me deeply.

"The next day I learn that the full moon ceremony has been canceled due to a family emergency for the elder who was to have led the event. In the days that follow I find myself face to face with my personal demons and begin the journey of confronting the long-buried trauma of my own sexual assaults. No longer an observer, I become a participant when my own people later invite me to a traditional Ojibwe sweat lodge.

"As I enter the dark door to the lodge, hands and knees on the ground, I surrender my professional journalistic control. I am struck that this assignment is no longer simply about the history and data surrounding the rates of sexual assault for Indian women; it has become deeply personal. I begin to tremble.

". . . . I have been raped several times, all before the age of sixteen. I have to pause for some time to enumerate them. I am able to remember seven rapes. Six assailants were white; one was African American. A white neighbor boy also repeatedly sexually molested me beginning at the age of four.

"My introduction to intercourse consisted of rape at the age of thirteen at a drunken house party in the small Wisconsin town of my youth. There were quite a number of older white boys and young men at the party who made much of my being American Indian. 'Oh, hey, she’s Indian, you know,' someone said. Several men laughed loudly at the remark; it seemed to be an enormously funny secretly shared joke. It was only later that I came to know the punch line. For the white men of my town, Indian women were sexually available and could be raped with impunity."


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