Category Archives: Canada

Cultural Healing: Native American Activists Say Boarding School Abuses Harmed the Health of Generations

—Suzy Subways

December 2008 • Issue 9

An 1890s photo of Carlisle Boarding School graduates. Carlisle, the first Native American boarding school, was opened by Captain Richard Pratt in 1878.

“Many of the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse now prevalent in Indian country can be traced back to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of our keepers in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and mission boarding schools,” Lakota journalist and boarding school survivor Tim Giago wrote in the Huffington Post. Government-sponsored boarding schools have created a legacy of trauma among Native American peoples in the United States. The Boarding School Healing Project documents the abuse and demonstrates how it has led to high rates of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, violence against women, alcoholism, and drug use in Native communities. In addition to the homophobia the schools enforced in children from cultures traditionally welcoming of gay and gender-nonconforming people, most of these symptoms of trauma are the same factors that make Native communities vulnerable to HIV. A look at the brutal history of these boarding schools can teach us a lot about the ways that social injustice fuels the epidemic – and how to fight back.

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”

In the late 1800s, the U.S. government debated how to remove Native Americans from their land – “extermination or civilization,” as one former commissioner of Indian Affairs put it – and it paid Christian churches to run boarding schools as a “civilizing” alternative, Cherokee activist Andrea Smith writes in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and Native American Genocide. Army captain Richard Pratt opened the first of the schools in 1879, arguing that they would “kill the Indian and save the man” by destroying the cultural link between children and their communities. Until the 1930s, Native children were forcibly taken from their families at age 5, and parents who resisted were jailed.

For 100 years, from the 1880s through 1980s, about 100,000 Native people grew up at the schools. Abuse was rampant, and children were physically punished for speaking Native languages or practicing their religion. “I want people to know how we were beaten with leather straps, shorn of our hair, and used as child slave-laborers at these boarding schools,” Giago writes. “My eight-year-old sister, along with dozens of Lakota girls the same age, was raped at the mission school …. [she] told me about her abuse on her deathbed and I, along with her three children, finally understood why she had become a violent, alcoholic woman for so much of her life.”

“I agree that the effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses,” activist Charmaine Whiteface told the Native Press. “My parents both attended a Catholic boarding school and experienced, as well as saw, all these types of abuses. They refused to speak the Lakota language to us and only wanted us to be ‘white.’ There was alcoholism and major physical, emotional and mental abuse in our home. They knew no other way: They were terrified of being Indian. If it were not for my grandmother who taught me in secret, I might not have even a little knowledge about my culture.”

“The effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses.”

Canada forced Native children into residential schools until the 1970s, and abuses there are better documented. According to the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, churches and government are responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children. Survivors tell of witnessing church and school officials murder their classmates through beatings, hangings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. Many children starved because the schools were run on chronically low budgets. Until the 1940s, students were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis. Survivors say they were forced to play and share beds with children dying of the disease. There is testimony that babies born to Native girls raped by church officials were killed and buried on school grounds. The Canadian government issued an apology this year, but activists say that nearly half the survivors will be left without compensation, and witnesses will not be allowed to give the names of perpetrators or describe any misconduct. Continue reading

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TAKE ACTION – What You Can Do

December 2008 • Issue 9

  1. Break the silence about boarding school abuses. Order the 18-minute documentary A Century of Genocide in the Americas: The Residential School Experience by Rosemary Gibbons and Dax Thomas (2002) and host an event to show it with friends, in your neighborhood, school, or organization. After the film, you can hand out paper and pens so everyone can write letters to the editor of your local paper. Pass the hat for donations to the Boarding School Healing Project. Check the Project’s Take Action page and write letters to the United Nations and other authorities to demand investigation of human rights violations. Distribute the video to libraries and media outlets in your community.
  2. Demand sexual assault services for Native women. For most women living on reservations, the Indian Health Service (IHS) emergency room is the only place to go after a sexual assault. But in 2005, the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center found that 44% of IHS facilities lack trained personnel to provide emergency services after a rape, including post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection. According to Department of Justice statistics, rape in American Indian and Alaska Native populations is 3.5 times higher than among all other racial groups. 85% of perpetrators are non-Native men, most of them white. The U.S. government is required by legally binding treaties to provide health care to Native communities, which it promised in exchange for land it took. Go to the center’s Action Alert page to send an advocacy letter. For background info on sexual assault and Native women, watch the center’s videos on YouTube: Indigenous Women’s Reproductive Health Rights (2005) and Violence Against Women is Against the Law (2007). Amnesty International also has an Online Action Center page devoted to the issue.
  3. Join or start a Oaxaca solidarity group – like the ones in Austin, Chicago, Flagstaff, Portland, Santa Cruz, and other cities – in your hometown. There will continue to be urgent calls for solidarity with social movements in Oaxaca asking people to demonstrate at their nearest Mexican Consulate, and a group can help people mobilize quickly. Your group can also host speakers and film screenings to educate the community and raise money to support organizing and media work in Oaxaca. If there isn’t already a group in your area, contact one of the existing groups or visit elenemigocomun.net [The Common Enemy] for help starting one.
  4. Research local archives and government and church records for evidence of crimes in Native American boarding schools. If your church or government is responsible for abuses and/or deaths of Native children, take steps to hold it accountable. This could start just by talking with others in your community about it. Then, for example, you could work within your church organization to help (and pressure) it to gather information, release it publicly, and reach out to Native groups to offer restitution.
  5. Protest the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. The 2010 Winter Olympics will take place on unceded indigenous land from February 12 to 28, 2010. According to the Olympics Resistance Network, the harmful effects have already begun – expansion of sport tourism and resource extraction on indigenous lands; increasing homelessness and gentrification of poor neighborhoods; more privatization of public services; union-busting, especially for migrant labor; the fortification of national security; ballooning public spending and public debt; and unprecedented destruction of the environment. Building on a call by Native activists, the network is organizing a protest convergence between February 10 and 15, 2010.
  6. Stay informed and involved. Visit Intercontinental Cry for frequently updated news, videos, and info about how you can support indigenous struggles around the world to reclaim their lands and protect their lives, their traditions, and the environment.

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TAKE ACTION — WHAT YOU CAN DO

SEP. 2007 • Issue 6

If you’re part of a sex worker activist project and would like to learn from others doing this work, contact the following groups for insight and inspiration:

Different Avenues
Washington, DC
202-829-2103
www.differentavenues.org
Different Avenues is a peer-led organization working for the rights, health and safety of people at high risk for HIV, and fighting violence and discrimination. The organization works across labels and identities to envision a world where our communities live with justice and well-being. The majority of its constituents are youth and young adults, people who are homeless or just trying to get by, and people who formally or informally exchange sex for things they need. Most of its work is local, but Different Avenues also does its best to support national and global movements for social justice.

Project SAFE
Philadelphia
866-509-SAFE
http://www.safephila.org
SAFE serves women, including transwomen, and distributes a Bad Date Sheet to help street-based sex workers avoid clients who have attacked other women or stolen their money. Workers call SAFE’s hotline or invite SAFE volunteers to visit them at home (where they feel safer talking than in the street) and give a detailed physical description of the attacker and what happened. Reports are anonymous and shared only with women. This keeps the information from johns and the police (who may arrest or dismiss a sex worker trying to report a rape), builds trust and community, and helps women define what rape is and be heard without being stigmatized.

St. James Infirmary in San Francisco, run by sex workers for sex workers, provides free, non-judgmental healthcare.

Stella
Montreal
514-285-1599
http://www.chezstella.org
Stella, a broad-based sex worker activist group in Montreal, Canada, also has a Continue reading

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“Nothing About Us Without Us”: Drug users around the world organize for HIV and viral hepatitis prevention, healthcare, and human rights

by Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

JUNE 2007 • Issue 5

We know that drug use—both legal and illegal—can increase a person’s HIV risk. We also know that just quitting drug use is not a realistic option for everyone. Harm reduction strategies accept that drug use is part of our world and provide effective tools to reduce the harmful effects that drug use can have, such as viral hepatitis, HIV and overdose. HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B can be transmitted when people share injecting equipment, so syringe exchanges give people clean, unused works and dispose of people’s used ones. Methadone is a drug that can be prescribed and taken orally so that injection is avoided completely, and many people find they can keep their lives more manageable and healthy with methadone or another type of opiate maintenance therapy. In this issue of Solidarity Project, we explore ways that drug users around the world are organizing to protect themselves and their communities when society won’t.

Spectacular demonstrations took place on World AIDS Day 2006 in Teheran, Iran. More than 800 people visited Persepolis’ programme for reducing HIV among drug injectors.

At the 18th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm in Warsaw, Poland in May, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) announced that about a third of people who contract HIV worldwide outside of Africa are exposed through shared syringes during injection drug use or indirectly as sexual partners of people infected through shared syringes. The trend is similar in the United States, where these risk factors account for almost two-thirds of cumulative AIDS cases among women.

Between 50-90%, of active and former injection drug users in the U.S. have hepatitis C (HCV), with most users becoming infected within the first years of beginning to inject. In Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, injection drug use is a primary mode of transmission for both HIV and HCV. Yet only 8% of injection drug users worldwide have access to prevention services like opiate maintenance treatment and sterile syringes, according to UNAIDS.

The U.S.-led global “War on Drugs”—which puts drug users in the hands of police and prisons instead of serving users’ physical and mental health, housing, and recovery needs—increases the risk of contracting HIV and viral hepatitis, as well as the risk of overdose. Stijn Goossens, Director of Activism for the newly formed International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) cites an example from his home, Antwerp, Belgium, to demonstrate the absurdity of making particular drugs illegal: “Antwerp jails are full of Moroccans in for the hash trade. How come they’re not full of Scottish people in for the whiskey trade?” Of course, Goossens and INPUD would oppose the incarceration of alcohol vendors from any country, but his point is clear.

Even before the emergence of HIV, drug users organized to provide services for their communities and to defend their human rights. Those who are directly affected by an issue must lead every struggle for justice—and this struggle is no different. As with any movement, drug user organizing faces considerable challenges, but they can be overcome, especially with the logistical support of former and non-users.

A Movement Grows

Drug user organizing started in the Netherlands in the early 1970s to reduce the transmission of hepatitis B, and in 1984, a users’ group in Amsterdam began the first distribution of syringes to prevent HIV. The Drug User Organizing Manual, created by Jennifer Flynn for the Open Society Institute’s International Harm Reduction Development Program (IHRD), observes: “Heavily influenced by the AIDS movement, drug user organizing carries forward The Denver Principles, which rejects victimization and creates a new identity that individuals can call themselves, rather than being given a label by the outside world.” Continue reading

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Case Study From Canada: The Prison HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN)

By Sean Barry, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)

NOVEMBER 2006 • Issue 1

Many United States prison and AIDS activists have been inspired by Canada’s relatively long record of providing behind-bars harm reduction and prevention tools. Our Canadian counterparts continue to struggle for the full range of needed interventions, but their victories can offer strategic lessons to activists in other countries.

In 1991, recognizing that the AIDS crisis in Canadian prisons was a result of “government inaction,” activists launched the Prison HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN). PASAN’s advocacy is driven by the needs of people who are locked up: an informal committee of prisoners identifies campaign issues, while the external “Activist Committee” is made up of prison rights activists and AIDS service providers. Prisoners have actively participated in letter-writing campaigns and utilized a prisoner grievance system that, while not effective at redressing problems, helps “raise the profile” of issues. Prisoner-run health groups, with both formal and informal peer educators, also inform activists of what their constituency needs.
Notably, Canada has a comparatively more equitable health care system and more responsive correctional oversight than in the United States, although advocates point out that the prison system remains a fundamentally inhumane place. PASAN and other groups have used meetings with correctional staff, issued reports on current conditions and recommendations for improvement, and supported prisoners taking action on the inside as tactics for improving conditions. Continue reading

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