Today, Native American girls and women suffer the highest rate of violent victimization in the country. In fact, those in Native communities often hear jokes about “Indian lovin” as waking up with a hickey and a black eye. What passes as dark humor for Native love is, in reality, partner violence.
“Domestic violence is at a very high rate in the Native community, and the next generation holds the key to much-needed change,” said Rebecca Balog, grants compliance manager for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) headquartered in Lame Deer, Montana.
NIWRC has created a NativeLove campaign designed with the goal of ending domestic violence in the Native community through encouragement and empowerment of Native youth. The program was launched in February at the Chemawa Indian School in Washington State to coincide with Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and will wrap up in October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“This program gives youth an outlet to define what Native love means to them,” said Balog. “It’s an opportunity to hear from our youth instead of just talking to them.”
NIWRC has created toolkits for youth and educators to get the conversation started around what Native love means, along with inspirational videos. The face-to-face campaign has now expanded to include a social challenge, where youth can express what Native love means to them through photos, videos or posters, and share it on social media using the hashtag #NativeLoveIs.
“The goal of our NativeLove project is to engage involved Native youth to end domestic and dating violence in their communities,” said Lucy Simpson, executive director of the NIWRC. “Once the program had launched, we quickly realized its real value and that it provides us all with the opportunity to show each other positive, encouraging Native love."
“When visiting with Native kids, we listened to them discuss trust, honor, family, speaking the truth and respecting themselves,” said Balog. “They say so many important things that let us know they are engaged, and more importantly, have great expectations of themselves.”
At NIWRC’s recent national “Women Are Sacred” conference, youth engaged in the NativeLove project presented videos and photos to a room of over 300 people.
“At the end of the presentation, the room stood to applaud the youth, and many gave them words of encouragement and love,” said Simpson. “That reaction is Native love in practice and ultimately what this project is all about.”
Verizon’s HopeLine program provided the NIWRC with a grant for its NativeLove program so it can be made available to Native and non-Native direct service organizations, policymakers, communities and members of the public.
“This dialogue holds great promise to increase the safety of Native women, not to mention forever changing the definition of Native love,” said Simpson.
To learn more about the NativeLove campaign, receive a poster for your school or community center, or access the NativeLove toolkit, please visit www.nativelove.niwrc.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To join the NativeLove challenge, post a video or image with the hashtag #NativeLoveIs on any social media outlet.