You are here

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.