IMPORTANT NOTICE: This post is several years old and may not reflect the current opinions of the author.
All text from the Pretty Bird Woman House blog.
In May of this year, the progressive netroots pulled together to save a tiny women’s shelter on a Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Thanks to over 680 strangers who donated a combined $27,000, Pretty Bird Woman House was able to keep its doors open for the duration and provide emergency shelter for 188 women and 132 children.
But just last month thieves broke into Pretty Bird Woman House – literally smashing holes through the walls. They stole the computers, the television, clothing, toiletries – all donated. Then arsonists set fire to the building.
Pretty Bird Woman House remains open, without a house, in an unheated, donated office. The tribal council has done all it can afford to do. Without a house, this sanctuary will die.
Pretty Bird Woman House needs another netroots miracle to survive. There is so much in the world we are powerless over. For Pretty Bird Woman House you can make a difference, make the world a better place, right here, right now, today.
Origins of Pretty Bird Woman House
In October of 2001 a monster in the body of a fifteen-year-old boy stalked the Standing Rock reservation in South Dakota. Since his tenth birthday he had racked up twenty-five separate criminal charges, included among them was torturing a kitten to death. Another incident involved his shattering a beer bottle over the head of an eight year old. Thirty one year old Ivy Archambault had the misfortune of being home asleep when he broke into her house intent on burglary. Before the night ended he kidnapped, raped and beat her to death. In the six years since this crime was committed, he has never been charged with the murder despite eyewitnesses willing to testify, thanks to a nightmarish maze of confusing tribal, federal, state and local jurisdictions and laws. (Sources: Indian Country News, Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Citizen’s Equal Rights Alliance)
Ivy Archambault’s murder might well have passed from memory without any impact. But Jackie Brown Otter, her sister, had other ideas; she envisioned a shelter, a place where threatened women could go. A base for the fight to prevent these crimes and when they occur, seek justice on behalf of the victim. She wanted to name this place with her sister’s Lakota name: Pretty Bird Woman. Over the course of three years she and a small group of women struggled to make this happen. Then, in late 2004, the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence came through with a grant and hired Georgia Little Shield, a nurse with ten years experience in the domestic violence as Director of Pretty Bird Woman House.
Georgia Little Shield knows a little about domestic violence:
I’m a survivor. I was abused as a child. It was real bad. I almost succeeded in committing suicide – you see, back then, the only place I had to go was to die. There was nothing, no shelter, no counseling on the reservation, nowhere I could turn. There was no help for me and I just wanted to die. No woman should have to go through that. No woman should feel that way…
Nobody’s going to talk for these women but us. We have to help them. We have to let them know, there is help. We don’t have to tolerate it no more. We have rights.
Georgia started in October 2005. The local tribal district government donated office space and on January 5th, 2006, Pretty Bird Woman House opened for business and has not closed since despite a constant struggle to survive.
Scope of the Problem
Standing Rock Reservation is not particularly friendly to women. According to the Amnesty International report Maze of Injustice – The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA:
High levels of sexual violence on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation take place in a context of high rates of poverty and crime. South Dakota has the highest poverty rate for Native American women in the USA with 45.3 per cent living in poverty. The unemployment rate on the Reservation is 71 per cent. Crime rates on the Reservation often exceed those of its surrounding areas. According to FBI figures, in 2005 South Dakota had the fourth highest rate of “forcible rapes” of women of any US state.
Amnesty International was told of five rapes which took place over one week in September 2005. Many survivors reported that they had experienced sexual violence several times in their lives and by different perpetrators. There were also several reports of gang rapes. One survivor and activist told Amnesty International that people have become desensitized to acts of sexual violence. A common response to such crimes is blame, but directed at the survivor rather than the perpetrator.
Making things worse, Standing Rock Reservation has a tiny police force to patrol all 2.3 million acres. At the time of the murder of Pretty Bird Woman, Standing Rock had only one police officer on duty during the night shift. As a result, it took over a day for anyone to even come out to start to investigate the disappearance. Since then the night patrol has doubled in size… 2 officers for 2.3 million acres each night.
Further compounding the problem, Amnesty reports on the legal nightmare facing the victims, their advocates and the police:
Tribal and federal authorities have concurrent jurisdiction on all Standing Rock Sioux Reservation lands over crimes where the suspected perpetrator is American Indian. In instances in which the suspected perpetrator is non-Indian, federal officials have exclusive jurisdiction. Neither North nor South Dakota state police have jurisdiction over sexual violence against Native American women on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. State police do, however, have jurisdiction over crimes of sexual violence committed on tribal land in instances where the victim and the perpetrator are both non-Indian.
This legal mess has produced three distinct and uniquely horrifying results.
Police agencies often work at cross purposes when it comes to investigating and prosecuting the crime.
“When an emergency call comes in, the sheriff will say ‘but this is Indian land.’ Tribal police will show up and say the reverse. Then, they just bicker and don’t do the job. Many times, this is what occurs. And it doesn’t always get resolved, which means no rape [sexual assault evidence] kit, etc.”
-Juskwa Burnett, support worker for Native American survivors of sexual violence, May 2005
Georgia Little Shield told me that when her daughter was beaten by her husband, the husband, remorseful after hitting her daughter, took her daughter to the hospital and asked to be arrested. As emergency workers rebuilt her daughter’s shattered nose the police argued over who was responsible for handling the crime. Finally, the city police gave the husband – who was still wearing the t-shirt covered in his wife’s blood – his car keys and told him to just go home, nothing was going to happen. And nothing has.
The next result is the predictable outcome of this legal mess – women do not report rapes and domestic violence because when they do, they will suffer victimization by the system. Georgia Little Shield told me: Women don’t report because not a darn thing will be done for them. The Amnesty International report bears this assertion out:
Amnesty International’s interviews with survivors, activists and support workers across the USA suggest that available statistics greatly underestimate the severity of the problem. In the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, for example, many of the women who agreed to be interviewed could not think of any Native women within their community who had not been subjected to sexual violence.
So this is the battlefield on which Georgia Little Shield and her tiny team fights. She tells me that there are police officers there who want to help and want to prosecute but cannot do so. So essentially, the three women who work for Pretty Bird Woman House work alone.
Services Offered by Pretty Bird Woman House
What can Pretty Bird Woman House do against all of this injustice? Small miracles, one day at a time. In the first ten months of 2007 Pretty Bird Woman House accomplished the following:
– answered 397 crisis calls
– gave emergency shelter to 188 women and 132 children
– helped 23 women obtain restraining orders, 10 get divorces, and 16 get medical assistance
– provided court advocacy support for 28 women
– conducted community education programs for 360 women.
These impressive achievements achieve a new stature when put into the context of what happened to Pretty Bird Woman House during the exact same time frame. In April, the grant from the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence ran out. Georgia Little Shield’s salary ended as did the phone service (including crisis line). Pretty Bird Woman House had a staff of three, Georgia Little Shield and at that time, one part time advocate and one volunteer advocate. They were waiting, hoping for a Federal grant to come through at the time they ran out of funding. By the complex rules of the grants, that should have ended Pretty Bird Woman House right there because they could not have provided the services (the crisis line) required to receive the Federal grant. Georgia Little Shield prepared to continue work without pay, realizing that she would not even have the gas money to drive into town many times.
Pretty Bird Woman House needed over $25,000 to make it until September when the Federal grant might kick in. Raising that kind of money on Standing Rock seemed an impossibility. Tribal government remained supportive of the shelter but had no further resources to share after donating a small building at the end of 2006. Further compounding the problem, the three staff members of Pretty Bird Woman House needed to spend their time helping women, not scavenging for non-existent funds.
The Progressive Netroots Miracle
At this time this situation came to the attention of Daily Kos user nbier(I’m not clear how) and he created a chip in page for the effort and followed up with a series of diaries trying to raise funds. And then a miracle happened. Other Daily Kos members diaried about this: flautist, sarac, njgoldfinch and frontpager Devilstower jumped in. From Daily Kos the news spread virally and Christy Hardin-Smith at Firedoglake, mole333 at Culture Kitchen, DB at Queen of Pentacles, William Neuheisel at Creative Evolution…. and many more I have missed kept the torch lit.
The result? Over 680 strangers donated $27,500…
This money functioned as the operating funds for the shelter from May through September of 2007. The Progressive Netroots paid for crisis phone lines, Georgia Little Shield’s salary, a financial advocate for the shelter, court costs, operating expenses, food, clothing, toiletries and other incidental expenses. This money literally saved the lives of women on the Standing Rock shelter:
I just got off the phone with Georgia Little Shield, Director and Advocate at the Pretty Bird Woman House. Over the weekend, the shelter received a call from a woman who needed to be evacuated. If this had happened on Thursday, the shelter would not have been able to do much more than take the call. But because of your efforts, Georgia was able to tell this woman: “Don’t worry about the money–we have money coming. Just get out and come in.”
In late September the Federal grant was awarded, paying the salaries for Georgia Little Shield and two more full time shelter staff/advocates. The future of Pretty Bird Woman House seemed assured. With the support of the Tribal Government, a shelter to house women in danger and the federal grant the pieces had finally come together and the women of Standing Rock had a permanent sanctuary.
This security proved illusory.
Losing the House
Georgia Little Shield described the abandoned building donated to Pretty Bird Woman House by the Bear Soldier District government in late 2006 as being able to house one family and two single women at a time with room for office space on the bottom floor. While not luxurious by any means, it had all the necessities; running water, electricity, telephone lines, a small amount of storage and shelter from South Dakota’s harsh winter. The biggest drawback lay in the fact that the building’s remote location made it difficult for the small police force to quickly respond.
The first signs of danger came when Pretty Bird Woman House offered shelter to a woman whose batter had a record of extreme violence. Fearing for her safety, they transferred her to a shelter off of the reservation. The next day someone cut the shelter’s phone lines. Police did not have the manpower to come out and see the cut phone lines and eventually the phone company fixed them.
Shortly after this unknown men entered an adjoining abandoned building. They kicked and tore a hole through the drywall wide enough to walk through and looted the shelter of anything they could carry: televisions, computers, clothing, toiletries (all donated or purchased with donations) – literally anything that could be carried. This happened in broad daylight while the shelter was empty – the staff were all absent transporting women to court or other shelters. Clearly the perpetrators watched the shelter for such an opportunity.
After a second break in, local government and Pretty Bird Woman House realized that the shelter could not function safely. The staff moved out and returned to the unheated donated office space. The day after they moved out the crisis line got a telephone call:
Lady, your shelter is on fire, they are burning down your shelter.
Arsonists had thrown some kind of molotov cocktail through a basement window, setting fire to the building.
This blow dealt a terrible setback to Pretty Bird Woman House. Some of the grants they depend on require that they provide shelter to battered women and their children. All the advantages they gained – not having to make three and four hour trips transporting women to neighboring shelters (assuming those shelters had room), having a stable base of operations, having the extra time not spent driving, or calling to place women doing grant writing – all of these advantages vanished.
While Georgia Little Shield maintains a stoic resolve that Pretty Bird Woman House will survive regardless, others wonder if the shelter can make it. Some feel the shelter has been targeted (sorry for the “some say” construction – anonymity is a real concern for these people) for destruction.
Fears and Hopes for the Future
Georgia Little Shield has modest dreams for Pretty Bird Woman House:
I want to have a shelter and four paid advocates. Two advocates would focus on sexual assualt – currently we must travel 120 miles to get rape kit. We need two advocates for domestic violence as well. Domestic violence calls make up most of our crisis calls, but sexual assault requires a lot of resources. I want to be able to teach women’s safety classes, parenting classes, offer assistance in getting GED’s, have a place for women to look for jobs on line. These are the kind of support services I want to offer.
She has not forgotten the men who batter either:
I want to offer them classes to help them stop being violent. Anger management and things like that. Hopefully it would make a difference.
Georgia Little Shield hopes these things can happen but the most important goal for her:
Pretty Bird Woman House must be self sufficient. I have chronic heart problems and diabetes… my health is real bad. I just want to make sure Pretty Bird Woman House will be able to continue without me.
What Your Donation Buys
Pretty Bird Woman House already has two potential replacement houses in mind. Both offer significantly more space than the previous building. Georgia described how they both had full basements, storage room and would house more than double the families and women than their previous building. Both buildings have yards which means possible playgrounds for children.
One house has a major advantage in location – a police station across the street.
Because of difficulties obtaining loans (banks are allergic to both Native Americans and poverty) the best solution lies in purchasing the house outright. The Tribal Council could hold the mortgage but coming up with the mortgage payments every month creates an ongoing problem. Since both houses are on the market, they could be gone anytime. Depressed property values on Standing Rock mean that $60,000 gets the house. An additional $10,000 is required to make them secure, with proper fencing, video cameras, reinforced doors and other measures. Neither house is in great shape, but both offer shelter and that remains the bottom line for the survival of Pretty Bird Woman House.
This is urgent for many reasons:
– Pretty Bird Woman House cannot serve the women who need help now – if neighboring shelters are full battered women and rape victims needing a place to go have nowhere at all.
– the lack of a shelter disqualifies Pretty Bird Woman House from many grants
– the situation requires Pretty Bird Woman House to stretch its resources to the breaking point – it cannot be sustained.
Once Pretty Bird Woman House has a permanent home, the future looks much brighter. Again, they will meet the criteria for grants. The permanency of a home opens many doors for them and makes a huge impact on the future of the shelter. Beyond this, a permanent women’s shelter on Standing Rock creates an infrastructure to begin to tackle the nightmares detailed above. That infrastructure will function to erode the resistance to change. In a very real sense a women’s shelter is the foundation upon which progress can take place.
In short, if we meet this goal, Pretty Bird Woman House should not need constant fundraisers by the progressive blogosphere.
Please: DONATE NOW. Pretty Bird Woman House is a 501 (c) 3 charitable organization.
What Else Can We Do?
If you have clothing, toiletries or other goods (or checks if you don’t donate online) donations you can send them via USPS to:
Pretty Bird Woman House
P.O. Box 596
McLaughlin, SD 57642
If you use FedEx, UPS or DHL ship to:
Pretty Bird Woman House
302 Sale Barn Rd.
McLaughlin SD 57642
If you have ideas for helping, please join the Yahoo Group.
Perhaps most importantly, BLOG. Spread the word. Make it go viral. That is the genius, the magic, of the netroots – our amazing power. No one of us has to do this all on their own. We do this as community. Pass this on throughout the community. Feel free to take anything from my diaries or from the Pretty Bird Woman Blog for this purpose. That’s what it is there for. Please, if nothing else, do this.
Anything you do for this effort is appreciated. You are helping make the Bird in Pretty Bird Woman House into a Phoenix – literally rising from the flames. Please take a second to tell us in comments what you did so we may thank you – and maybe your comments will inspire someone else to give as well.
Georgia Little Shield said:
Someone has to hear these women. Someone has to listen to them.
Let’s make sure someone can be there to listen. Thank you so very much.
Friends of Pretty Bird Woman House Yahoo Group
Pretty Bird Woman House Blog
Amnesty International Report-Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA