Sexual Abuse & Silence is not an Indian thing

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A few months ago I came across a Caucasian ladies’ comment about how residential schools were actually a saviour to the little Indian kids. The apprehension of these children only saved them from their incestual, alcoholic homes.

Her comment, puffed up and ignorant, refused to look at how these dark clouds settled upon our communities and that in fact this behaviour stemmed from the very residential schools she claimed to have been a beacon of light for heathen and destitute children.

Sexual abuse and silence was never our way.

In one of my social work classes we were discussing the alarming number of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. My teacher asked us,”Why does no one look at the issues that exist in the communities where the majority of these women run away from?”

We honour and value our women as life givers and the keepers of tradition.

This overarching belief has stitched the mouths of many shut and given their eyes cataracts so they cannot see. I know that this is a true belief, a real view of women, but how many of our communities advocate for this? I’m not trying to say that we don’t stand by it, I know a lot who do, but I know so many people that don’t. There are many men (and women) and leaders that stake claim to this belief while ignoring the patriarchal power systems that they help perpetuate.

In order to live by this, we need to address when it is not happening. We need to address the different forms of violence that we ourselves commit, address it happening in our families, in our communities. By addressing it, we are saying that it is not okay and will no longer be accepted.

When I was 14 years old, I recall having a conversation with a friend and through this teenager mid day confession I discovered that my indigenous friend had NOT been sexually abused as a small child. I was stunned. It seemed to be a concept beyond my adolescent mind, an indian girl who didn’t get abused. I honestly believed it was an experience that every indigenous girl shared, yet I never expected any of my white friends to have gone through this. Looking back, I can see that my belief was that sexual abuse was an indian thing. It happened to so many of my friends, to my cousins, my aunties, my mother, to my self.

Sexual abuse was never an Indian thing.

This brings me to addressing the silence within our communities. Everyone has heard of the crabs in the bucket story, one crab tries to escape and another one pulls it down. It’s a metaphor for lateral violence with in our communities. When I say “our communities” I also am referring to the Urban Aboriginal communities that exist too. The silence within our communities surrounding sexual abuse is crippling. It is crippling our children’s, women’s, and even some of our men’s spirits.

I have heard of countless experiences of women and young girls/boys who have attempted to charge, or to address the previous abuse, of an abuser within their community/town/city. The bravery needed to step forward on such a matter is considerable and that in itself deserves recognition. And countless times I have heard stories of how these stories are silenced and stifled. Those who have pursued charges sometimes against their own family members, are threatened with being ostracized by their very families and their communities. Voices who have found the courage to speak out are told to be quiet, to forget about it, to not cause any more trouble.

These are just some of the scenarios in which the abused are further abused by the actions of those who are supposed to protect them. People in our communities choose to forget and look the other way. Allowing these sexual abuse legacies to continue on with their children and their grandchildren.

At what point do we allow the right of someone to be in the community outweigh the safety and belonging of a child, a woman, an elder? Just because it may have happened to us, does not mean that it is just something that happens naturally.

Traditionally, we did not turn our backs when someone was raped or abused by another person. We did not mind our own business and forget that our tongues were made to witness truth. No. In one of Kim Andersons books it talked about how in one Nation, when a rape occurred the man would be given over to the women and they would decide would to do with him or they would be sent away from the tribe/community indefinitely. Stories would be told orally about the taboo of incest so that people were reminded of the laws of life that governed them.

Silence is not an Indian thing.

I read a journal article the other day where this indigenous man said that he took his children to China before and a person replied how amazing that was and how lucky his kids were to live a good life. He said afterwards that his kids shouldn’t be considered lucky just because they’re Indian and live a good life. What is it about being Indian that says you have to live a hard life? It doesn’t say that.

Sexual abuse and silence have invaded our communities (urban too) like small pox viruses on Pendleton blankets.  They came packaged in residential schools and through various forms of oppression.

It’s time to tell a new story. A story where our children live good lives, our women are protected in our communities, and our men are healthy and strong.

No more silence.


**Note: I also understand that there is the added dimension of racist and abusive policing and a low priority by rcmp to investigate cases of sexual abuse but this was not my primary focus in this piece.


  1. You are right in this article about abuse. Sometimes we are like the crab syndrome. And at times we take individual stands and stand out and say no to abuse! And other times we put the blame and deny it exists. I’ve seen my own people and experienced this in so many different ways too. It makes me angry though that the steretypes are out there just because we are indigenous doesn’t not mean we live hard lives. Abuse is experienced among so many different societies from Indigenous poor to rich white upper class. In saying this our indigenous souls would normally be loud and say no!

    1. Violence and abuse knows no restrictions. Truth. It varies in between communities pending on the level of healing or even to the level of colonization that has been experienced. I hope and pray for healing for all, and especially the indigenous communities around the world. Thank you for your words Paddy, they are always welcomed

  2. I have thought much about the issue of sexual abuse. I continue t find the silence difficult to understand. No, that is not right. I understand the silence. I do not understand our collective resistance to stopping the abuse. No, that is not true either. I understand the powerlessness so many of us feel. At some point one has to challenge that powerlessness. Maybe addressing powerlessness is the crux of this discussion, and of taking action.

    1. Good point. I understand this powerlessness too, I’ve felt it most of my life. Today I toured a residential school and I was reminded that individuals whom have experienced abuse were silenced, and told that they were making things up. I can see how this has evolved. It pains me deeply, and I know that the silence and oppression is bred from deep seeded pains and complex trauma, but at the same time this does not mean we cannot stop this cycle from continuing now.

    1. I know right? I went on a residential school tour and at the beginning we watched an old (1940s?) CBC short documentary made for tv. It was propaganda, the man whom had attended and was giving us the tour told us how the majority of the stuff in that show never happened (the Christmas pageants, the priests playing soccer) and there were nuns in the background of the camera crew making sure the kids smiled. This positive spin, or refusal to acknowledge, happens today.

  3. While I am aware that sexual abuse was a major weapon used against our peoples, I am also keenly aware children of many backgrounds were abused in schools and orphanages run by churches. There is more than enough suffering to go around. Sadly, much of the abuse that occurred in our local community was reported to authorities who did nothing. The result was generations of misery.

  4. I was sexually abused at a very young age to this day my mother refuses to believe I was assaulted then it happened to one of my daughters and I broke down…I have not been the same person divided my family. Because I never held back anything and tried several times to put him in jail where he belongs my daughter now hates me and has no relationship with me..she said I ruined her life by being too vocal about the assaults…I felt like I was doing what a parent is supposed to do…this makes me sad and depressed….I love my daughter..why should I keep silent …

    1. I remember as a young girl being upset with my family for reacting, and when it happened again when I was older.. My father and brothers took to the street bearing bats. I was in shock… I said, this is just like when I was young. Everyone knows all over again. My father cried. But I was able to see that they loved me this time, that I was cared for. It took me a while to get to that space. There is another traumatization that comes from the vocalization/charging/and public acknowledgement of these thing. You did the right thing, one day she will come around and all you can do is offer your love and understanding.

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