Returning Men to Honor: A Guidebook for Developing Intervention and Education Programs for Men Who Batter in Native Communities
A Philosophical Approach of Men’s Violence Against Women
Mending the Sacred Hoop approached this guide from a philosophical framework: that men’s violence against women is based on a belief system rooted in the dynamics of power & control. The use of violence against an intimate partner is a choice; battering is a pattern of abuse that has an intent and purpose—to establish and maintain control over an intimate partner. Battering is supported by social norms, gender roles/expectations, hierarchical family structure and social systems that promote dominance of one group/individual over another, and the acculturated beliefs in our communities. The impact of this abuse is fear, subordination, and dehumanization.
The following frame this intervention education guide:
- Native women are the highest victimized population in the United States by perpetrators of all races.1
- Colonization is based in a belief that one group has the right to exert their will over another and use people and resources for their own gain.
- Violence against women is a social problem that affects individuals, families, and communities (including schools, medical, and judicial institutions), and as such, requires societal change.
- Domestic and sexual violence is about establishing power and maintaining control.
- Acculturated values and beliefs have eroded our Indigenous structures and life ways.
- We have to reclaim our own indigenous teachings on culture and values to create social change in and for our communities.
This guide is intended as a resource tool for Native communities wishing to design an intervention program built upon tribal values, perspective, and life ways that helps men understand and address their use of violence against an intimate partner. Our goal is to provide a practical resource guide that assists the reader in developing a men’s program that has at its heart women’s safety and offender accountability, as well as the structural vision to create community change.
Introduction to native Men’s Program Development
As Native people, we “walk in two worlds” carrying our customs, traditions, and culture on the Native side as well as the values, beliefs, and structures introduced through colonization. Our Native teachings guide us to live harmoniously with each other and the Earth; those ways of life were disrupted with the creation of reservations, forced assimilation, and numerous attempts to eradicate Indigenous people to exploit Earth’s natural resources. Indeed, our communities look and function quite differently compared to 500 years ago. Prior to European contact, elders were revered, children were cherished, men were expected to earn their status, and women were honored. Violence against Native women, which began as a tactic of colonization, continues today as its by-product: women are exploited just as the Earth is exploited; the roles of men and women have been altered. The work of confronting, addressing, and ending violence against Indian women means that we must confront, address, and change our beliefs about what it means to be a Native man and what it means to be a Native woman.
Colonization was a methodical, reoccurring, and systematic process to establish dominance (power and control) over the land and people. Battering is a methodical, reoccurring, and systematic process to establish dominance (power and control) over an intimate partner. Through colonization, tribal structure, family structure, language, beliefs, values, and traditions were disrupted with the intent to eradicate and replace them with the social and family structures, language, beliefs, and traditions of the colonizers. This history links us to the present-day, where Native women are the most likely to be the victims of intimate partner and sexual violence. Violence against women is supported by a belief system that denies the humanity of women; the tactics used by men who batter are in many ways the tactics of colonization and the effects of colonization are being borne by the bodies and spirits of our women.
The work of a Men’s Program must be two-fold: it must operate on both a community change and an individual change level. As one element of a Coordinated Community Response, a Men’s Program must work to change the community’s awareness, perception, and tolerance of violence against women (this also includes system change); while providing space and tools for Native men who batter to change their beliefs and their behavior. Without this two-level change effort in Tribal communities, women will continue to be battered—a BIP will function only as a stopgap to the violence. For instance:
“[The focus] will be on helping men change one behavior, but then they will walk back out into the community that [supported the battering behavior]. When you’re talking about Indian Country, you’re talking about our Indian men. We have to approach this [the use of violence against women] historically.”4
The essential element of our work to end violence against Native women is the identification of violence as a learned behavior. In other words, the use of violence against an intimate partner arises out of an individual belief system, which is informed by experience, and supported by a larger social belief system. As a learned behavior, such use of violence can be unlearned through the examination of beliefs that support the violence, the acknowledgement that the use of violence is a choice, and the will to change. The Men’s Program must work to hold men accountable for their use of violence while providing them with a space and a framework for change. Native Men’s Programs assume a role in the social change response that stresses personal responsibility for changing values and beliefs in a way that restores safety and respect for American Indian and Alaska Native women.