Gina Lopez CCASA Rural & Indigenous Communities Specialist is in beautiful California this week at the National Indian Nations Conference to connect and learn about healing and advocacy for Indigenous survivors. She shares some thoughts about her experiences this week as she completes the various programs.
The opening session for the National Indian National Conference starts out honoring victims of violence in a ceremony that recognizes women, children, men, elders & disabled and 2 spirit LGBTQ victims as represented in star quilts that are draped over empty chairs…this is to remind us that there are folks who should be here with us but are remembered. It is in our work that we carry this ceremony as the energy we reach for when we find ourselves at the end of a shift or beyond our shifts searching for answers, reasons or comfort. It is with honor we carry on, it is with remembrance we honor ourselves with each victory no matter the size because the spirit of those who have passed light the way in the darkest times.
This is the energy that sparks this important conference and speaks to the kind of response that service providers in Indian country strive to achieve. One that honors, remembers and moves with the care of ceremony…quiet, respectful and strong.
The National Indian Nations Conference is a time of remembrance and a place of renewal when all of the day-to-day obstacles can compound into hardship after hardship. The Conference supplies criminal justice professionals in Indian Country with rare workshops and opportunities to ask important questions to sources that might not have been known otherwise. The great conversations with other boots on the ground help bring a familial connection to one another and for a brief few days, we are not alone. I took workshops like Weaving a Braid of Support for Native Survivors which highlighted the newly created StrongHearts Native Helpline; a hotline that is answered by all Native trained advocates that strive to offer one of a kind response to folks reaching out for help. StrongHearts has compiled their own directory of service providers in Native communities across the nation, those services that wanted to be included can be linked to callers when they seek assistance. The helpline is not yet 24//7 capable and is only Monday through Friday but has laid out plans to continue to evolve and work to keep this much-needed resource alive. Another workshop that was near and dear to me and will stay with me is the Circle Peacemaking which is a restorative approach to wrongdoing. Rooted in traditional and cultural core values, the Circle is an approach that has long since been left behind but has some great potential to be reinvigorated. After an overview of the process Peacemaking Circles; the presenter, Alaskan Magistrate Judge Mike Jackson, and fellow board members from across the country sat in and took part in a mock circle. The roles of Judge, Peace Officer, Grandparents, defendant, parent and counselor were played out before a captivated audience and the honesty derived from the discussions between the participants brought into the light issues that plague Native communities and families…alcoholism, inter-generational violence, boarding school abuses and repeated cycles of destruction. Even for the presenter the content was emotion filled and powerful among the audience as it was difficult to not feel one’s own story being laid out while capturing the effectiveness of the Circle/Restorative approach to accountability. It reminds us that crime or wrongdoing is not only the responsibility of the defendant and their family but of the community as a whole if there is to be any semblance of healing and breaking of cycles.
It is not difficult to realize why this Conference is important and sought after…the presenters are prepared with knowledge of the complexities of criminal justice for Native communities and the difficulties that survivors face. One must be prepared to go to uncomfortable places and be open to reaching towards tradition in a new world; it is in this time that we can look around and see that it is possible, necessary and fueled by other warriors ready to take on the battleground as well.
Thank you 2018 National Indian Nations Conference.