Hopi Tribe takes a stand against sexual abuse

Bonnie Secakuku speaks to attendees of the First Annual Hopi Sexual Assault Awareness event held at the Hopi Health Care Center April 3 (Photo by S.J. Wilson/NHO).

Bonnie Secakuku speaks to attendees of the First Annual Hopi Sexual Assault Awareness event held at the Hopi Health Care Center April 3 (Photo by S.J. Wilson/NHO).

POLACCA - "Native American and Alaskan Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the USA; one in three Native women will be raped, and six in 10 will be assaulted in her lifetime."

Bonnie Secakuku read these alarming statistics from a Hopi Tribal Proclamation presented at the First Annual Hopi Sexual Assault Awareness kickoff event held at the Hopi Health Care Center on April 3.

Secakuku stood in for Chairman Ben Nuvamsa, who signed the proclamation declaring April as Hopi Sexual Assault Awareness Month - taking the stand that sexual violence is an intolerable act with physical, psychological and emotional consequences for every person living on the Hopi reservation.

"The Hopi Domestic Violence Program and the Hopi public have taken a proactive stand against sexual violent crimes such as acquaintance rape, date rape, stranger rape, sexual assault by an intimate partner, incest, stalking, sexual harassment and child sexual molestation," Secakuku added. "The Hopi communities must work together to address the prevention of sexual assault, to assist survivors and their families with crucially needed services, and to ensure that survivors are not re-victimized."

The proclamation stressed the importance of education to Hopi communities, as well holding perpetrators who commit such acts of violence responsible for their actions - and the commitment of the Hopi Tribe to support these efforts.

Victims speak out as an act of healing

Polly Ann Joseyesva and Janet Hyeoma, both from the Village of Shungopavi, were honored speakers. Both are victims of severe sexual and physical abuse.

Joseyesva asked members of the audience before her to close their eyes and give her a moment to gather her emotions.

"Sisters, there comes a time in every woman's life when she has to stand up for herself," Joseyesva said, and cautioned people to take care not to judge individuals locked in abusive relationships.

"Before you wonder what's up with her, ask, what's up with me," Joseyesva read from a poem she presented to the audience.

"The reason I chose this poem is because I'm not perfect. No one in this world is perfect," Joseyesva explained. "I want you all to know that this could be you. Sisters, be aware that there are people out there so mean. It took me 16 years to understand what was happening to me. It took a wise guy to make me realize that I can't be treated like this anymore."

She explained that she was telling her story as part of her healing process, and that if it weren't for the women involved in the Hopi Domestic Violence Program, she would not have made it out.

"I'm just happy to be alive to be in front of you," Joseyesva said. "Women, respect your selves. Don't let anyone touch you in a way you don't want to be. You are not alone - there is help out there.

Janet Hyeoma described her life as a young girl who was molested by her stepfather.

"I think, oh my gosh, that man is still out there."

Hyeoma's voice was heavy with emotion as she explained that her stepfather kept her at home when other young people were enjoying life - so that she would be available to him.

"I had no one to turn to," Hyeoma said.

She escaped her stepfather's reach when she left home for high school. After graduation, Hyeoma left the state. But the nightmare was not over.

"I got myself in trouble in 1992," Hyeoma admitted. "I turned to drugs and alcohol. In 1991 I got divorced and hit rock bottom."

The trouble Hyeoma referred to was an accident she was involved in while driving under the influence.

"I lost two girls at the same time in that car accident," Hyeoma said. "I got caught driving under the influence again, going through everything, and I was told that I had to go to rehab or spend six months in jail."

She chose rehab, spending a year there. As part of her treatment, she was asked to visualize her molestation at the hands of her stepfather.

"They told me to just picture him being there, doing what he did to you - then just beat him up," Hyeoma said. "And I did. I'm glad these women are here to help - take advantage of them," she encouraged other victims of sexual violence.

Hyeoma also had to deal with an abusive boyfriend - and it wasn't until she sent him away that she learned from her son that the man had been abusive to him.

"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked her son.

"Because he was your boyfriend and I thought you'd believe him," her son answered.

"I told him, 'Men can come and go, but you are my family, and you will be there all the time.

"We have to stand up for our kids," Hyeoma stressed. "We need to watch our children - teach them right from wrong. Nowadays we don't tell our children to stay home. They roam around, and we don't know where they are. We should always know where our kids are, especially our girls."

Hopi Tribe takes a stand

Following a welcome address from Rick Mize, Chief Executive Officer of the Hopi Health Care Center (HHCC), Dorma Sahneyah, and the Chief Prosecutor from the Office of the Hopi Tribal Prosecutor introduced the program, and the Hopi Tribe's efforts to educate Hopi men and women about sexual assault.

Valaura James of the Hopi Domestic Violence Program (HDVP) thanked Sahneyah for her efforts, explaining that Sahneyah writes all of the grants for the program, and also thanked Deidra Honyumptewa (Co-Chair of the HDVP) and caseworkers Mayfa Secakuku and Elaine Descheeny.

"We also have men we can't forget - Danny Joseph, Carlton Timms and Lowry Tungovia," James continued.

James also honored the victims who shared their stories.

"Victim testimony is very difficult," Valaura James of the Hopi Domestic Violence Program, explained. "I thank them. I want to stress that we want to bring awareness to the Hopi community that we will not tolerate sexual and domestic violence in our Hopi community."

After the release of balloons representing the victims of sexual and physical abuse, the audience went inside HHCC, where booths were set up offering information explaining how to get help if one is affected by abuse.

Miss Hopi First Attendant Emmalynn Thompson was assisted by Miss Hopi Kassondra Yaiva in presenting a topic that is part of her platform - teenage pregnancy. This issue is related to sexual abuse, as children as young as 12 and 13 are becoming pregnant.

"Many parents believe that their kids don't want them to talk to them about sexual issues," Yavia said. "But kids are saying that its best if you talk to them, tell them what you want for them."

"Teenage pregnancy has an impact on Hopi life," Thompson explained. "Many are living this modern lifestyle - but they are losing out. Many girls don't get to dance in social dances anymore. To dance, a girl has to be unmarried and have no children. They are not able to grind corn, they are not able to get the butterfly whorl hairstyle that emphasizes they are young unmarried women. Many say that they miss the fun and wish they had waited."

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