HOGANSBURG Hundreds of residents rallied, marched and chanted during a recent event on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation to speak out against sexual assault an issue some acknowledge is still a problem in the community but is better addressed through counseling, support programs and shelters for victims.
The Walk a Mile in Her Moccasins event April 25 drew close to 150 men, women and children, some of them wearing moccasins and most holding teal balloons and donning teal shirts, given out by organizers of the march. Teal is the color for sexual assault awareness, and April was sexual assault awareness month. The event was organized by the tribes social services division, Three Sisters Program, Konon:kwe Council and Act Now.
Its too bad that some people pretend it is not happening, but its good people here raise awareness and say you can get help, said resident Hilde Barnes. Around here, there are pretty good programs to try to make people aware of the problem and to try to find solutions for it.
Sexual assault seems to be a problem everywhere, she said.
The teal procession assembled at the St. Regis Mohawk School, marched up Church Street, turned left down Route 37 and ended at a shelter at the Tekakwitha walking trail, where marchers had refreshments and listened to speakers, some from Three Sisters, a program to help victims of sexual assault, who reminded participants of what they offer.
Marchers chanted and sang as they walked, some hanging teal balloons from lacrosse or walking sticks. As the marchers entered Tekakwitha walking trail, they were greeted by a members of the Northern Sky Warriors stickball team, who clapped their stickball sticks together. A man identifying himself as Lead Horse said this was symbolic of Mohawk tradition, where they traveled with the women on the inside and the warriors on the outside, to protect the women.
Its great to see this turnout. Its a great visualization for the community and the support we have for each other, said Randi Rourke Barreiro of the Konon:kwe Council, a group that seeks to empower women in the Mohawk community.
After snacking on doughnuts and hearing messages of empowerment from Three Sisters members, marchers were offered a tough look into the damage caused by sexual abuse and how it can lead into a vicious cycle of physical abuse, substance abuse and self-destruction. One woman, Nionataa, came forward to relate how abuse by a relative from an early age led her into a severe depression and feelings of self-worthlessness by her teens.
The abuse didnt end when police intervened and she was removed from her home, as Nionataas struggle led her into a cycle of alcoholism and relationships with abusive men.
I felt like I was a broken person. Youre a victim thats why you need this, she said. I was always blaming me. I had to learn it wasnt my fault.
Finally, with the help of local counseling programs and shelter houses, Nionataa was able to sober up and break the cycle of abuse. Her story was a powerful reminder of how abuse victims often blame themselves, of the addictive nature of her mistakes and of the long-lasting impact caused by abuse from an early age.
She urged participants to seek support and have a zero-tolerance policy toward abuse. Reach out and get what help you can, she said. One hit, one slap is bad enough.