The National Tillie Black Bear Women Are Sacred Day, October 1st
"At night, as young children, we kept watch for government agents so we could warn our families doing a sweat,
purification. It was a crime to speak our language, practice our ceremonies, and be who we are as Indian people."--Tillie Black Bear
The struggle to end violence against Native women runs parallel to the colonization of hundreds of tribal nations in the United States. While all suffered the inhuman brutality of federal law and policies, each nation has a specific history of how colonization altered the lives and safety of women. The first poster created with funding under the VAWA in 1995 read "If the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being of the woman is intact so too is that of the family, community, and society."
Tillie Black Bear was the first Native woman to emerge at the national level in 1978 to advocate for battered Indian women and continued to do so until her passage in 2014. The NIWRC honors Tillie as one of our founding mothers and as a grandmother of the battered women's movement. Tillie provided leadership for more than four decades and at key moments of our struggle for safety and sovereignty.
Tillie was well known for saying, "At any moment and any place we must be prepared to stand for Native women." She understood the safety of Native women at its roots is linked to the laws, policies, and cultural genocide of colonization. The United States Congress apologized for this long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the federal government and is making significant changes through VAWA, FVPSA, VOCA and other federal laws.
A large part of the legacy of colonization is cultural genocide. For our movement, it is reflected in the destruction of the images of the leadership roles of Native women. The lack of public acknowledgment of the heroines that defended their nations. The grandmothers who stood against the criminalization of those ways of being a Native woman.
In understanding the deep roots of violence against Native women, the NIWRC encourages our movement to honor our leaders and celebrate their lives. By creating national holidays reflective of our reality as Indigenous women, we begin to challenge the cultural tolerance for violence against Native women. “Tillie’s understanding of social change, organizing, movement building, and making relatives are her living legacy. Tillie inspired millions of other Americans from all walks of life to end domestic and sexual violence. We celebrate Tillie’s life and our movement with a national day to honor her life’s work.”—Lucy Simpson, Executive Director, NIWRC.
“There has to be a piece about reclaiming traditional ways of healing, not only consequences for perpetrators but traditional ways of healing for the for victims. For the victim, there is a part of her that has been taken. How do we help her reclaim that part that has been taken? What do we need to do as tribal women to do that? There have been many times where we have taken women into the purification lodge ... and it basically lays a foundation for the women for healing. And that is where it is really important for women who believe in traditional spirituality, they are reclaimed by that. We pray with the women to help her reclaim parts of her body. We wipe her tears. We wipe her down with the sage to cleanse her that way. Often times, victims want some type of healing ... they want something to help them stop the pain they are experiencing. The feeling of fear not only for themselves but for family members. To help them put a closure to that. And women do not just come once, but they keep coming back for additional purification lodge ceremonies. It becomes a foundation and framework for how they take care of themselves in other situations ... other periods of their lives. It is about having a belief in something greater. After working here at Rosebud for over 25 years, we have to do something that is hands-on, tangible, that will give them the strength to know they are not alone.”—Tillie Black Bear, September 2006, Saint Francis, Rosebud Indian Reservation
Tillie’s leadership included creating and amending federal legislation to increase safety for Native women through strengthening tribal sovereignty. Tillie’s efforts included the Violence Against Women Act, the Family Violence Protection and Services Act, and the Tribal Law and Order Act. Tillie led a Wiping of the Tears Ceremony at the Senate Hart building to pave the way for passage of the Safety for Indian Women Title of VAWA 2005. Tillie understood the importance of building organizational capacity and the political role of the NCAI Task Force on Violence Against Women. Pictured Tillie Black Bear and Juana Majel Dixon, NCAI Task Force meeting, January 27, 2010, Washington, D.C.