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What is Cultural Abuse?

 In Abusive Behaviors, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence in Indian Country

Intimate partner violence, in all forms, is destructive at its heart. Most people can identify the more common forms of abuse, which include physical, emotional, sexual and financial. One of the lesser known forms, cultural or spiritual abuse, is one of the most devastating, yet it is rarely spoken of.

For American Indians and Alaska Natives, spirituality is often the core of who we are and our way of life, as a people. Our culture and spirituality are intertwined and provide the foundation of our lives – how we live, our family roles and how we interact with others, the meaning we find in our lives, and our sense of wellbeing.  To have our spirit attacked is as personal as an attack can get.

Spiritual abuse can be used to control how a person interacts with the world. Some of these types of abusive behaviors can include when your partner:

  • Belittles your beliefs, practices and traditions
  • Prevents you from participating in spiritual or cultural traditions
  • Forces you to participate in practices (not your own)
  • Misstating or misusing spiritual practices against you
  • Practices bad medicine against you

For our tribal communities, spiritual or cultural abuse can look like this:

  • Telling you that you’re not “native enough”, or if your partner is non-Native, that you’re “too Indian”
  • Uses hurtful stereotypes to put you down (“Indians are drunks, lazy,” etc.)
  • Prevents you from participating in ceremonies, pow wows, feasts
  • Uses tribal membership against you (“My tribe won’t let you…”)
  • Tells you that you’re not allowed to drum, dance, sing, fast or otherwise participate in traditions because of your gender

Each of these behaviors can deeply wound and often isolates you from your community. If your partner is behaving this way toward you, you may feel removed from your family and support system. You may be embarrassed, not know where to turn or who to ask for help.

In some cases, you may even feel that the abuse is the direct result of your culture — that you are being abused because you are Indigenous. This form of abuse is a directly related to the root causes of violence in our communities: colonization and genocide.

If your partner or loved one is demonstrating any of these behaviors or any type of abuse against you, please know that you have the inherent right to be safe, to lead a life free of abuse and to participate in your cultural practices and traditions.

The StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-762-8483) is a culturally appropriate, confidential, and anonymous service to American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians who are experiencing abuse or know someone who is being impacted by domestic violence. StrongHearts advocates are available 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CST, seven days a week, and are trained with an understanding of intimate partner violence, including spiritual or cultural abuse. Our advocates can provide support and validation, safety planning and access to resources in your community.

When you’re ready to talk, we are here.

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Showing 5 comments
  • wolfeyes

    All of the above apply in some way ..its hard to explain…complicated..

  • Sarina DiMaso

    Thank you very much for the resources. I work with many different Trines and most often the woman may feel a sense of hoplessness and pride and I’m glad that I will be able to provide you as a resource for the woman and men.

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