Carrying Our Traditions Forward, Leaving Abuse Behind

 In Abuse Types, Abusive Behaviors, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence Awareness, Domestic Violence in Indian Country, Family Violence, Native centered advocacy, Trust and Respect, Unhealthy Relationships

(Photo credit: Donovan Shortey)

As Native people, we find strength in our traditions — the customs we share with our families, clans and communities. Traditions include our spiritual practices and ceremonies, belief systems, and the ways we show respect for all living beings and the sacredness of life.

When we come together for dances, feasts and other community events, we acknowledge and celebrate our shared history and culture with our traditions. Our traditions tell us who we are as Native peoples.

In some small communities where everyone knows one another, there are often unwritten rules about what should and should not be discussed. Certain topics, like domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, are not always brought out into the open.

It may even be considered taboo to talk about unhealthy relationships and domestic violence. Some people believe that talking about something, giving it a name, invites its energy — in this case, hurtful — into a home, stirring up painful memories and emotions. It can be even more difficult to raise the issue of domestic violence to others in the community, especially in areas where unpleasant topics tend to be swept under the rug.

Our traditional beliefs instruct us, as relatives, to take care of one another. Just as we are taught to take care of our Mother, the earth, we are also taught to care for and respect all living beings. Our traditions emphasize the importance of family and, especially, taking care of those who can be most vulnerable — our children, women and elders.

Listening is also valued among our people. Each of us has an inherent responsibility to do our part by being open to listening and showing concern and compassion for someone who is hurting. This is being a good relative.

Keeping quiet about domestic violence at the expense of keeping peace in a community is not okay. Any form of domestic violence — sexual, emotional, cultural and spiritual, financial and digital, or any combination of — goes against our traditional ways.

Some people misinterpret our traditions to discourage talking about domestic violence in our homes and communities. However, our homes should be safe places, where relatives who are hurting can feel loved, safe and supported in sharing their stories of abuse.

Domestic violence is a reality we can’t afford to ignore in our communities. Together, we can hang onto the traditions that promote listening, caring and healing for our relatives. It’s time to carry the best of our traditions forward and leave abuse behind.


Need to talk? The StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-7NATIVE) is a culturally appropriate, confidential and anonymous service for American Indians and Alaska Natives facing abuse or who know someone who is experiencing domestic violence. Trained with an understanding of tribal cultures, sovereignty and intimate partner violence, advocates offer peer-to-peer support at no cost and are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. CST. After hours calls can connect with the National Domestic Violence Hotline or call back the next business day. Domestic violence is not our traditional way.

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