Men don heels for abuse awareness

SUQUAMISH — Some feeling sore, a dozen men staggered to the Suquamish House of Awakened Culture with heads held high, having just walked more than half a mile in bright red, high-heeled pumps.

“I think women shouldn’t wear them,” joked Jon James, a member of the Suquamish Warriors veterans group. James was one of the many men who participated in the Suquamish Tribe’s first “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event April 30.

Domestic violence and sexual assault is a problem for women everywhere, but studies show Native American women suffer at some of the highest rates in the country. According to a University of Oklahoma study, nearly three out of five Native American women have been assaulted by their spouses or intimate partners.

“It's a problem here, but one of those things people don’t talk about,” said Bennie Armstrong, another man who endured the heels. “Men on women, men on men, children, youth … If [we] can get men to buy in on this, its easier to talk about.”

Cecelia Williams began the Tribe’s sexual assault program in 2008, and with the help of the North Portland Area Indian Health Board, brought the national “Walk a Mile” program to Suquamish to raise awareness. Getting men involved “is what’s going to bring around the change,” she said.

The 30 men and women who walked from the longhouse to the tribal administration building and back turned the heads of drivers on the road, exactly what Williams was looking for.

“It's a fun way to start acknowledging it,” she said of the prevention of domestic and sexual assault.

Women tribal members have also reached the attention of the federal government. Last week, the Senate passed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which first passed in 1994. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) sponsored the bill, which includes the ability for tribal officials to charge and prosecute non-Indians who live and commit crimes against women on tribal lands.

“Non-Indians constitute more than 75 percent of the overall population living on reservations,” according to a release by Murray. “And too often, non-Indian men who batter their Indian wives and girlfriends go unpunished because tribes cannot prosecute non-Indians ... This law allows Tribes to prosecute non‐Indians only for domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protection orders, and the defendant would retain the same rights as in state court, including due process.”

Since the act became law 18 years ago, domestic violence has decreased by 53 percent.

“Like everyone else, there’s been violence in my life,” James said of his motivation to be a part of awareness in Suquamish. “Everybody has a story.”


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