Women

Abortion Debate Editorial. Religion: The Source of the Conflict (published Oct. 2006)

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Op-Ed and photos by Lise King

The anti-abortion cause is about a very well-funded and well-organized group of people who believe that their religious values are the correct ones, that anyone who does not agree with them are misguided and lost souls, and that it is their God-sworn duty to protect us from ourselves (sounding familiar?). I went to the rally in Rapid City in opposition to HB 1215, which is where I asked the Pro-lifers about their views on HB 1215, and their personal values.

I went as a journalist, and I made a supreme effort to hear both sides of the debate objectively. What I found was a debate divided clearly between the “pro-rights of the individual” versus the individual’s interpretation of the “word of God.” Religion, and the ages-old argument over whose interpretation is the correct one, is at the center of this very contentious debate. As I approached the rally on foot (parking close was impossible), I found myself becoming very emotional. I was surprised at the numbers of people who crowded the sidewalks, the noise, and the energy being expressed by those people who turned out in opposition to the Bill. Strong expression that is not of an evangelical nature is rarely seen in this Republican cow town. I was so proud of those men and women who came out to exercise their freedom of speech and expression in an environment that tends to punish those who would dare to contradict the our right-wing Christian majority in Western South Dakota.

After taking the prerequisite photos and notes, I turned my attention to the other side of the street where a group had gathered to oppose the opposition. They were dominated by Catholic church signs and children in strollers, and a gaggle of teenagers shouting at passing cars about Jesus and babies. They cheered and jumped, smiling wide, like they were at a football game as people honked at them. They waved American flags, they held cute pictures and had small children holding signs for the passing traffic to read. I was surprised by my own adrenaline rush in response to this scene.

As a journalist, I have found that I am human and will emotionally react to situations, but it is my job to acknowledge my reactions and still objectively represent both sides of an issue. So, I went bravely into the crowd across the street and began to ask questions. I approached one woman who was quieter than the rest, standing behind the shouting line at the edge of the curb. She held a sign that said, “Re: Abortion After Rape: Don’t Follow One Act of Violence With Another Act of Violence.” I asked her to explain. She said, “I don’t think the bill went far enough. If a baby is conceived, that is God’s will, no matter what….If a woman is raped or incested, or is going to die because of carrying a baby, then that is God’s will, too.” She made it clear that her Christian faith guided her to know that this is God’s Truth. I pointed out that there were plenty of Christians on the other side of the street, to which she responded, “Those aren’t real Christians. They are lost. They are wrong. They don’t know the Lord like I know the Lord.”

Then I went to the screaming bunch at the front of the pack. One young man held a sign that said, “We Vote Pro-Life.” I asked him if he was old enough to vote. He said, “No, but I will be some day.” He was fifteen. It turned out that the young group, many of them in uniform, were from the local St. Thomas More Catholic High School. Several of them expressed that it was cool that they got to skip classes to be out there on the street. They all were very interested in telling me their opinions about abortion. Many of the boys were quick to point out that the sin was sex and that they were virgins. The girls, as a group, were less vocal about their personal affairs. Twice, our conversation was interrupted by adult men who wanted to engage me in debate. I was simply asking questions, I explained, not debating any issues. I told one man that I was “not interested in arguing with him. “But I am interested in arguing with you,” he responded aggressively. At that point I looked around to make sure that my husband was close by.

When I got back to The Native Voice office, I called the Principal at St. Thomas More High School. He said that the school was not affiliated with the event, but that more than thirty kids had been checked out of school that day by their parents to be at the rally. I asked him if he believed it appropriate for fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year old students to be participating in an event that was, at the core, about sexual issues. He responded by saying, “In the Catholic Church, we teach them young, and we teach them often.” And therein lies the core of the matter.

The “Pro-Life” protesters were expressing a religious belief. I asked many of them how they explained the large numbers of Christians who were protesting HB 1215, and pointed out that President Bush himself expressed his concern about an anti-abortion bill that would not allow for his “three exceptions” of rape, incest and the life of the mother being threatened. The answer was clear and consistent: those are not “true” Christians who “know the Lord.” Two people said that the difference is one of being Protestant versus being Catholic. One person countered them, saying, “Oh, don’t go there.”

If that is, in fact, the core value split (this is not to leave out the non-Christians, but the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and in even ihgher numbers in South Dakota), there may be no reconciling the two sides. After all, Protestants are so-named because they were “protesting” the Catholic Church. As the French say, “Plus ce qui change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more that changes, the more that remains the same. As a publisher, it is very interesting to me that it was the advent of the printing press that historically went hand-in-hand with the rise of Protestantism. Before that time, for the most part the only Christian Europeans who could read were the wealthy aristocracy and members of the Catholic Church. Books, including the Bible, were made and written by hand. They were extremely expensive. Thus, the clergy “interpreted” God’s word for the masses, since only they could read and interpret and therefore teach the word of God. This proved useful in many ways.

Once the printing press made books affordable and more available to the people, people learned to read. And once they began reading scripture for themselves, they began asserting their own interpretations. This did not go over well with the Catholic Church, which at the time was selling indulgences to European royalty (these were pieces of paper that “indulged” the sins of the aristocracy, and forgave their sins, for a hefty price). Having the power to use one’s own mind to seek out the meaning of God and scripture rather than simply being told what to believe and being a servant to the decree of the church is a principle difference between Protestant and Catholic. Much blood has been shed over this debate. Let’s not carry that tradition forward into darkened rooms where women will resort to extreme measures to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

When John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States, there was concern over his being the first Catholic President. There was speculation that he would always be beholden to the word of the Pope first, not the will of the People. Kennedy was progressive in terms of the Catholic Church, and a Pope-centered presidency was not the legacy that he left.

One must wonder where the Catholic South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds’ views on abortion are formed. One must hope that he will remember that our Founding Fathers were wise in their musings on the necessary separation of Church and State. It is not to say that we are not to expect our leaders to have their lives guided by their spiritual or religious beliefs, but that they must be thoughtful, balanced and measured in their application of leadership – and that they must respect and defend the spiritual and religious diversity of the people they are supposed to represent. Catholic or not, Christian or not, “believers”…or not.

In the end, the issue isn’t even about whether or not you believe in abortion. It is about whether or not you believe in the right of government to legislate and regulate such personal matters based upon specific religious beliefs.

[Sidebar] Girls from St. Thomas More Catholic High School in Rapid City take a break from classes to rally against the HB 1215 protesters. [Sidebar] This protester’s belief: “If a baby is conceived, that is God’s will….If a woman is raped or incested, or is going to die because of carrying a baby, then that is God’s will, too.”

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Suzanne Blue Star Boy Leads Women to peace as newly appointed Director of V-DAY in Indian Country

TNV: The V-DAY Project is kind of shocking in this area of the country, in South Dakota. It is certainly breaking new ground here…

Suzanne Blue Star Boy: It’s important.

What I’ve had to do my whole life is not be afraid to stand up. I come from the Yankton Sioux Reservation. My father is from the Ihanktowan Dakota people and he was a tribal leader. But also what he did in the community was, he was a boxer. So part of what I grew up with was that fighting was a sport. We didn’t have fighting in our house. Boys didn’t hit girls. My father was someone who really stuck up for women. So, I didn’t know that other men didn’t do that except when I looked out my door as the reservation built the housing and all that. We were all put into a situation where we were too close to each other. You know that old saying “Familiarity breeds contempt”? That’s what happened on the reservation. We were too close to each other, physically. Combine that with people who don’t have jobs or they drink alcohol, or there’s frustration. And all of a sudden, there would be fighting. So I grew up in this community where the people I loved during the day, at night I didn’t like very much. They seemed dangerous to me.

TNV: Do you have any insights you’d like to share about how cluster housing affected the extended family system?

SBSB: When you grow up in an Indian community, you’re taught how we’re like, “Keepers of the Land.” And here we were in a HUD project, that was not about being keepers of the land in any way. It was about creating kind of a suburbia that didn’t really fit – not even in South Dakota. They took a city concept, and took it out to the reservation – I’m sure it was for economic reasons – and they created a different kind of slum. It was 1971. At the time it was brand new, and it looked fine. What happened to us, it was too close, too familiar, and they put strange combinations of people together. Anyone could move anywhere. So, people who had lived off the reservation moved back onto the reservation, and people who had lived on the reservation moved into those houses. And there was already strife. They ignored the tiospaye. They combined a bunch of different people together and conflict happened.

How we addressed the conflict was…my Dad was a boxer we set up a boxing ring in our backyard. We saw men hitting women, boys and girls fighting each other…So, we started a recreation program, and we just put gloves on everybody, and put them in for three 3-minute rounds and let them duke it out. I’m gonna tell you something that happened: all the gang fighting stopped. They’d wake us up in the middle of the night, drive their cars up to the boxing arena, and they’d say, “So and so was fighting. George, would you referee?” My Dad would get up, I’d time ’em, and they’d box. We’d have these boxing matches in the middle of the night. But it stopped the violence.

TNV: Why do you think it stopped the violence?

SBSB: Well, because no one really wanted to put on those gloves. No wanted to get in the ring. You have to be an athlete. My father was put in the South Dakota Hall of Fame for his contribution to Indian Country. He started the Silver Gloves in Mission. He trained Indian boys and (non-Indian kids) from all over South Dakota. He didn’t discriminate.

TNV: Do you know how to box?

SBSB: Hell yeah. You can’t have 5 brothers and not know how to box!

TNV: How did you come to work on domestic violence issues?

SBSB: I lived in Alaska for 20 years with the Tlinget and Haida people and one of the things that happened to me living in Alaska was that I had my own journey. The main turning point in my life was that I got clean and sober. In fact, on October 30th, my birthday, I will be 20 years sober. That’s so significant, but what happened was that all the things that I didn’t do I started to do in my life. I started to be a better person, I picked up the pipe again…a pipe was delivered to me when I was 16 years old and I wrapped it away and I knew I could never use it because I drank alcohol and did drugs. So when I got sober I took it out and I started following traditional thought and ways and I used it in all the best ways. We are like these spiritual creatures having this human experience. What happened to me was that things just started being put into place with me and I started my own business probably about 12 years ago and I ended up getting my masters degree in organizational development and management consulting. I train leaders how to lead in companies and corporations.

TNV: It’s needed on the rez.

SBSB: Exactly. I started working in the villages in Alaska. It was great and what happened to me was that my own self worth, well being, and leadership kind of just took off and I ended up leaving Alaska and going to Washington, DC. I didn’t know what I was going to do I thought that eventually that I would probably make films or that I would do something really creative. But at that time Oglala Nation called me, Karen Artichoker called me and asked me if I would help them with reauthorization of the Violence Against Women bill. I then became part of the larger women’s domestic violence and sexual assault group that looked at rewriting the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women act…I had never in my life thought I would be representing Indian Country.

TNV: How did you get hooked up with the V-Day project?

SBSB: Eve Ensler came to Washington, DC and a friend of mine arranged for me to meet her. I went the show [The Vagina Monologues] and I was totally shocked and…I loved it. I couldn’t wait to meet this women. We met at a restaurant and just kinda connected. Her heart was just so out there. We talked for hours…and that night she said to me, “I am going to do something with V-Day, with Vagina Monologues…I’m not sure what it’s going to be yet, but will you be on of my Warriors?” I go, “Yeah!” But then I said, “What does that mean?” and she said, “I have no idea, yet.” We stayed in contact. After talking for over two years, Eve said “Will you come to New York, because we’re going to do this V-Day in Madison Square Garden.” I couldn’t go, but I read about it and heard about it, it was an amazing event according to everyone who was there…It was the beginning of “V-DAY.”

I told Eve, “I know you’re all over the world, but you know something…you gotta help these women in Pine Ridge.”

TNV: But you knew about the violence problem in Alaska and you knew bout it in Yankton (Ihanktowan Dakota), too.

SBSB: I did.

TNV: So you understood this was an Indian Countrywide problem.

SBSB: Absolutely.

I knew that when I was living in Alaska, they had the highest rates of sexual assault in the U.S. …You can’t be Indian and not know what’s going on in the rest of the nation. But I said, “These are the women, this is the project I’m working on (in Pine Ridge), will you help them?” I wrote her a proposal and sent it to her, asking for her to consider our project as one of the three she was going to choose. She called me back and said “I didn’t read your project, but I’m picking yours…We trust you, so if you say we should do this project, we’ll do it,” eve Ensler has this way of being in the world that is so authentic, and she’s interested in doing real work with real people. She’s the person who has made this project possible. After she came to Pine Ridge, she looked at the statistics around the U.S. and decided to develop a larger project. I handed the project back to her at that point and she said “Forget it! You are going to be the warrior, you brought us this project to begin with and you are going to lead this larger Indian Country project.”

TNV: Let’s talk about what happened at the V-Day event in Rapid City last Spring…I was there. At the last minute everyone was afraid that not many people would show up, and the crowd kept growing until there was standing room only in a very large room. It was incredible.

SBSB: It was men and women, people from all walks of life, all colors, all ages. It was incredible. Everybody was there. We raised $50,000.

TNV: For a single event in Rapid City to raise $50,000 is unheard of…unless you’re the NRA…

SBSB: Yeah.

TNV: For something that’s about minorities and about women and about justice and about taking care…it’s unheard of around here.

SBSB: Well, Eve did something really interesting. She said, “Let’s get the right combination of people there.” So, she brought Jane Fonda, Tantoo Cardinal, and Ulali, and Dana Tiger from Oklahoma. She created a synergy by bringing the right people.

TNV: So, what’s the next step?

SBSB: I could have worked anywhere but it was Eve who said to me, “You know Indian Country, I don’t. So we want you to go out there and talk to people.” So, I’ve come to South Dakota and talked with people in Eagle Butte, Lower Brule, Yankton, Rosebud. All of them have agreed to do V-Day events in 2003 on their reservations. Their version of V-Day, whatever that is. They’re all in planning stages, talking about what they want to do. Because the United States is so big, we chose two regions to start with: South Dakota (because, we already started here and I’m from here), and Alaska, because it has the highest rate of sexual assault and domestic violence in the United States. In Alaska, we already have five villages that have agreed to do V-Days.

What we’re doing this year is asking everyone, “What would your community look like if there was no violence in it?” So instead of just being reactive to the situations, we’re asking people to be pro-active and asking them to imagine what their villages, their communities would look like.

TNV: Like visioning the future.

SBSB: It’s been really interesting. When I asked the women in South Dakota, “What would your communities look like with no violence?” They all sort of stopped, and said “We’ll, just like it used to be before, like when our grandparents were alive and people followed our language. It was a place where we all wanted to live.”

This is something we can say and do – we can begin to have the dialogue in our communities and ask our elders what it was like before violence was rampant. It’s reinventing our communities. This is Eve Enler’s idea. It comes from her love of peace, balance, and community. This project feels like a compelling voice that has come through us. It’s important not to be afraid. There are grass roots women leading the way all over the place. Women all over the world are joining together as a team to work against violence and re-invent our communities.

TNV: How do you believe that we can fix what’s broken?

SBSB: The problem is not just the Department of Justice. We have a systemic problem in Indian Country that started when we signed the treaties. But we can’t keep going back and blaming things on what happened back then. To solve the problems we have to start where we are now and look at how we can collaborate – but we all have to stop blaming each other. What I know about is the process of healing. We all need to be able to see the truth and to bottom out and get honest about what’s going on.

Part of the reason I am doing this work is…while I was in the middle of doing the V-Day stuff, my first cousin, who lives on the reservation, was murdered by a man. He beat her up with a telephone. I understand now that she had taken many beatings by this man and he finally ended up killing her. That was about a year and a half ago. This was really hard…she was my age, I grew up with her, I danced with her, she was a traditional women. She got caught up in that reservation life – drinking and partying and all that. She couldn’t get out and ended up dead. Man…it really broke my heart. My sister and I were like, “How can this happen, how can this be true? Here I was, working in domestic violence and sexual assault and here she is dead by this man. I was really angry but I knew that relationship was not an option. I needed to do something that would help other people. That’s why this has become such a plight for me. My cousin’s murder really motivated me to do this work. It’s no longer outside my family…it just makes me totally understand why I’m here doing this work. ‘Cause it’s real.

TNV: Thank you.

O Magazine Fulfills Reservation Dream: Erika Schneider Wins Oprah contest and Brings Community Theatre to Yankton Sioux

The O Big-Dream Contest original call for entries

Do you have an idea for a product, a store, a service, or a whole new way of doing things? Maybe you’ve invented a computer program or want to open a co-op in your neighborhood, but don’t know where to start. There’s a saying that it’s not what you know, but who–and that’s where O comes in. We want to help you make the connection, whether it’s to the state politician who can help you launch an afterschool program, or to a supplier of materials for that ingenious appliance you’ve invented, or an afternoon of advice from a world-class chef on how to open your first restaurant.

What’s your idea? And what support and resources–besides cash–do you need to make it a reality? Share your dream with us. Let us introduce you to the people who can help you make it come true. Filling out the form below could be the first step in changing your life.

Selections from Erika Schneider’s winning entry

“My husband is a tribal member, I am white, and we both have a background in the arts. We both want to start a non-profit community theatre here on the reservation….

The youth here have very few summer activities, and gangs, drugs and alcohol are the primary “fun” activites kids are turning to, we want so much to give a positive alternative, with culturally oriented shows and uplifting messages in the shows and the process of creating the show.

I had the idea that maybe somewhere there is a theatre or studio that upgraded its lighting and sound system and has something just laying around in a prop room? Here on the reservation, we are very isolated and there are not too many theatres or places we can turn to for help, so even a little bit of equipment would be great!”

Statement on the contest from O, The Oprah Magazine

We’d been thinking a lot about women who dream big. Editor in chief Amy Gross was struck with the idea that sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know that can make the difference between a stalled idea and a lifechanging accomplishment. Our goal was simply to make some introductions for our readers. Erika’s contest entry was so eloquent and inspiring that we immediately wanted to put her in touch with people who could help realize her dream. Seeing the generous way that the League of Chicago Theaters reached out to Erika Schneider and the Morning Star Community Theater was tremendously rewarding, and we at 0 are delighted to have made the connection.

When we live on the reservation, challenges are all around us. We hope for the best, deal with the worst, and try to find ways to walk toward a better life. It can be hard, some days, to keep our spirits up when we see too much suffering and are hard pressed to see that light at the end of the tunnel. How do we cope? Oftentimes with dreams…day dreams and night dreams…where we find our hearts and minds imagining a better world. It is in these places that we allow ourselves the soothing peace of creative thinking and the hopeful spark of idea. The question is, how do we get from the dream or conscious thought to a new, imagined reality? The answer is in the believing in the possible and in mapping out the process of achieving the goal, and there are as many paths for this as there are people with dreams.

Erika Schneider, who lives on the Yankton Reservation in southeastern South Dakota with her husband, tribal-member Sherwin Zephier, spent a lot of time voicing her concerns about the young people in the community. With two small children at home and a third on the way, she had adopted not only the reservation as her home, but also the concerns for the youth that we all know very well.

Frustrated by the lack of performing arts available to the Native youth and the community as a whole, Erika and Sherwin began dreaming about starting a community theater on the Yankton Reservation about four years ago. The dream was not without foundation Erika has significant background in the theater, including being an award-winning playwright in her home town of Kansas City, Missouri, and Sherwin is the Director of the Arts Department at Marty Indian School where he teaches kindergarten through 12th grades.

“We had been working on [starting a theater] for a few years but kept running into a lot of obstacles as far as funding and performance space… just trying to get the momentum to get it going was very challenging,” explained Erika, “we couldn’t really make any progress so we put it away for a while.”

A few months ago there was an advertisement in a local paper challenging people to “stop complaining about what we don’t have in the community and start using our talents to try to create what we need,” said Erika, “and we really agreed with that.” The ad was run by John Provost, a community member, who was organizing “The Celebration of Life Festival: Honoring Our Youth” to raise money for a playground. This was just the spur that Erika needed, as she recounts, “We called John and just fully committed to doing whatever it took to get a community theater going here to be part of the Honoring of our Youth project…and as soon as we made that commitment, everything just kind of took off.”

At one of the first organizational meetings for the project, Erika was so impressed with the enthusiasm and ideas, including archery programs and sports tournaments and a carnival and a concert, that she said, “you know, this is really amazing. We should write Oprah because she really supports things like this that are for the youth, involving community unity and working together… I bet she would support this!” Nobody really said anything, and “people kinda laughed,” Erika recounts with a smile.

Sherwyn encouraged her to follow her dream, so she entered the O Magazine Big Dream Contest. “I sent them a letter telling them about the celebration and the community theater we were trying to start and how important the performing arts are for the youth and that we really, desperately need these positive cultural activites,” explained Erika, “The contest rules were that you couldn’t really ask for money, you could only ask for resources; for example, contacts that could help you find what you needed to create this dream. So I sent the letter and about a month later I got a phone call from the Associate Editor at Oprah magazine that I was the grand prize winner. She said that they had over 1600 entries and we were the grand prize winners! So, Oprah magazine is helping us get all of our lighting equipment and sound equipment and things like the curtains for the stage. They got some costumes donated from some professional theaters…they got us all kinds of stuff…they have been working with professional theaters in Chicago and in New York to help us find what we need and get everything put together so that we can have a year round community theater program for our community.” Erika and Sherwin have named it “The Morning Star Community Theater.”

Once the initial shock and rush of excitement of winning the contest quieted down, Erika realized what a huge challenge it would be to create a theater (which is part art and part business), find a suitable play to stage, and to do it all in time for the Celebration of Life Festival, which is scheduled to take place August 16-18 in Marty and Wagner, South Dakota.

Help came from an unexpected place…just before she found out she had won the contest, Erika had a dream where she was sitting in a theater watching a play… “I dreamed the script and the actors and lighting, I saw the whole thing. When I woke up, I told Sherwin what I had dreamed about and explained to him that it had these spiritual messages in it and he said, `write it down.’ Of course, I didn’t write it down right away, but then when I won the contest I was thinking, `what play should we do?’ and Sherwin reminded me that we should do the play that I dreamed…because I dreamed it and then we won the contest, and all of this incredible support started happening and we felt like that was connected somehow.”

The play that came from Erika’s dream is now called “Tunkansina, We Are All Related.” She collaborated with Sherwin “and a couple of other people” to get the dream written down and into a working script format.

As she explains it, the play is about a young Native American man involved in a gang on the reservation. “There are two main gangs on the rez and they get into a fight one night and the young man gets knocked out. His great, great grandfather takes him to this place in between the worlds where he starts to teach him by bringing in his grandmothers and the grandfathers…who show him how his past has shaped who he is today…that he has reacted to some of the abuse he has suffered by becoming angry, and his anger is leading him to chose some negative paths in his life today. Then, the grandmothers show him the future, and how the choices he is making today can effect his future and the future of humanity. They help him to find forgiveness in his heart. So, in the second part of the show he comes back and uses what he has learned and starts the process of healing in his community.”

The play has a cast of 25 people, including Miss South Dakota Vanessa Short Bull, who heard about the production and volunteered to appear in the play. She will be performing ballet in a cameo role as a the beauiful butterfly dancer.

This O Magazine Big Dream grand prize includes the help of theater professionals from Chicago. At press time, the director and actor brought into the project by Oprah’s magazine are in Marty, working with the cast and crew of the new theater company to get them prepared for opening night, which will be at The Celebration of Life Festival. The Festival includes a multitude of activities, including The Morning Star Theater production, live performances (including headliners Annie Humphrey, Darren Geffre, Tonemah, and Louis Running Wolf from EXIT, to name a few), golf, volleyball and basketball tournaments, a walk/run, an archery drive, a picnic, and a carnival.

“Tunkasina, We are All Related” will be performed several times throughout the Festival weekend (see sidebar at right for show times), and proceeds will benefit both the Honoring our Youth playground development fund, and The Morning Star Theater Company. Erika added, “We’ve got most of our expensive needs covered-we still need about $6500 for production needs like lumber and stage make up…We’re planning on doing another show, probably a one act in November, and then hopefully a Spring production. We want this theater company to be year round.”

Erika summed up the whirlwind of activity that has been taking place: “To see this all happen within a month is really overwhelming, and just the way it exploded right after the dream is a destiny kind of thing. We’re just kind of trying to hang on so we don’t get blown away from all of the support.”

There has been a tremendous response to the involvement of Oprah’s O Magazine. It seems as though her attention to the project has been just the “contact” they were hoping for, and more.

O Magazine will be sending a team down to the Celebration of Life Festival to document the unfolding of Erika and Sherwin’s dream, The Morning Star Theater Company. The story will appear in the September issue of O.A followup story will be featured in the January, 2003 issue as well.

VDAY April 20th, 2002: This is an important day, For everyone

“When the sundance cottonwood tree is found growing alone on the prairie it must have a V in its upper branches because this symbolizes the women and it is a female tree. The veteran and the four virgins must be the ones responsible for the ceremony of cutting down this tree. Each young girl must touch the tree with the ax on the four directions that the veteran must use to cut it down, and they are the only ones who can do this. Because only the woman knows what it means to give life, and the veteran knows what it means to take it.”

Violence destroys. It breaks down and tears apart. It is an expression of anger, frustration, power and the will to dominate. It tears at the fibers of our self esteem, our spirit, our families, our communities, our cultures and our Nations. Breaking them down, breaking us down. Violence is a behavior that is learned, given permission for, accepted and sometimes even encouraged. Violence has no end except for more violence, misery and death.

Women give life. Women are the caretakers of the future. Women have the capacity to find the strength to take care of their families when everything else is depleted and gone. Over the years, Native women all over this continent have been put to the task of living with the most stressful situations, including the breakdown of the most important part of our lives – the family. Poverty kills the family. Cultural disintegration kills the family. Alcohol and drugs kill the family. And, like a plastic film covering the reservation, violence suffocates and kills the family.

V-Day is about allowing women to breathe again. V-Day is about breaking through that suffocating, overbearing presence of threat. V-Day is about women standing up together, along with the men who care to partcipate, to name the oppressor – VIOLENCE – and unite for a common goal: to end violence against women and girls everywhere. Every day, on every reservation, in every small town and in every big city, women and girls are the victims of violence. V-Day, which was started by actress Eve Ensler because of the public reaction to her play “The Vagina Monologues”, has become a world-wide phenomenon. Why? Because violence against women knows no boundaries. It knows no reservation boundaries, no cultural boundaries, or economic or political or race or nation or ethnic boundaries. As a matter of fact, Rapid City, South Dakota has the dubious distinction of currently being “the rape capitol of the United States”, meaning that there are more rapes per capita in Rapid City than in any other city in the US.

It is a good thing that V-Day and the play, “The Vagina Monologues” will be happening in Rapid City on April 20th. Come join the celebration and experience what it means to stand up and breathe.