Indian affairs agencies’ harassment problem

Why we’re investigating high rates of discrimination and assault at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

 

Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West.

When Sue Parton left her position at the Bureau of Indian Education for a job with the union that represents federal employees in agencies serving Native communities, she was surprised to see how many of them were too intimidated to speak up about a culture of mistreatment. The employees feared retaliation. “That has been in existence for a long time,” Parton, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, told NewTowncarShare News recently. 

A recent survey of employees at the Department of Interior, which oversees the BIE and Bureau of Indian Affairs, found that sexual harassment at the BIA is a major problem. Anna V. Smith, an assistant editor for High County News, has been studying the data, and her first story on harassment issues within the agency published this week, as part of HCN’s continued coverage of harassment within federal agencies.

Smith reports on a survey that is full of troubling statistics. Three notable points from the survey are worth thinking about together. First, 40 percent of BIA employees reported experiencing some form of harassment within the last year alone. Second, the BIA, which turned 194 this week, is today mostly staffed by Native peoples. And third, most of those within the agency who reported being sexually harassed were young women. Added together, these facts indicate some very specific vulnerabilities for Native women.

Bureau of Indian Affairs employees pose with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda on #rockyourmocs day.
Bureau of Indian Affairs

I have written these statistics before, but they bear repeating: More than 80 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. More than one in three Native women are raped in their lifetime, more than twice the national average. This is a problem that we can’t continue to ignore, given that the BIA provides services and resources to 1.9 million Native Americans and provides jobs to many. This is an institution Indigenous peoples need to be able to count on and trust.  

Most of those surveyed said they didn’t report their harassment, which isn’t uncommon. This can be especially true in Indian Country, where a history of inaction from authorities contributes to the belief that . Some said they didn’t report harassment because they worried about losing their job, unsurprising given unemployment rates among Native communities is . 

And when no one seems to be listening, and nothing seems to ever get done when it comes to , it becomes the norm.  

“From working in Indian Country and being a Native individual, we don’t report a lot. There’s a lot that we put up with,” Brandi Liberty, a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, told Smith.  

The only agency within the Interior Department with a higher rate of sexual harassment than the BIA was the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, which had the highest rate of all Interior Department agencies. Meanwhile, a found the department’s Indian education system was understaffed and without proper accountability, and that many of its schools were so degraded they were a safety hazard for students and staff.

This is troubling, considering the BIA’s painful history of Indian boarding schools. , sometimes by armed authorities and .  

And little is being done to solve the bigger issues. When the GAO report was presented to the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy, and Environment last year, lawmakers chose to focus on energy development on tribal lands, rather than the failings of the BIA, .

It’s disheartening to see how the institutions tasked with protecting and building up Native communities have repeatedly failed them and continue to do so.

Still, there are resources available for Native women facing sexual abuse or violence. offers a variety of services. Established last year, is the first domestic abuse hotline to offer assistance tailored to the victim’s individual tribal identity. There is also . More broadly, the #MeToo phenomenon has changed the national dialogue around violence against women. At NewTowncarShare News we believe we have a role to play in this dialogue by telling the stories of those who have been victimized or failed by the system. We invite you to add your voice by reporting harassment within Indian affairs agencies to us here

Wado.  

Graham Lee Brewer is a contributing editor at NewTowncarShare News and a member of the Cherokee Nation.

NewTowncarShare News is conducting an ongoing investigation into instances of harassment, discrimination and sexual assault in Indian affairs agencies, and how agency officials handle these complaints. If you are a current or former employee of a federal Indian affairs agency who has experienced harassment, please consider contacting us.

This form is secure, but please consider using a personal email address instead of your government email.

Powered by .

NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - Winter Wildlands Alliance seeks an experienced and highly motivated individual to lead and manage the organization as Executive Director. Visit https://winterwildlands.org/executive-director-search/ for...
  • Background: The Birds of Prey NCA Partnership is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization based in Boise, Idaho, which was established in 2015 after in-depth stakeholder input...
  • Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor of Native Americans and the News Media The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University is...
  • AWF seeks an energetic Marketing and Communications Director. Please see the full job description at https://azwildlife.org/jobs
  • The Southwest Communications Director will be responsible for working with field staff in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico to develop and execute detailed communication plans...
  • An intentional community designed for aging in place. Green built with Pumice-crete construction (R32), bamboo flooring, pine doors, T&G ceiling with fans, and maintenance free...
  • (CFROG) is a Ventura County, CA based watch-dog and advocacy non-profit organization. cfrog.org
  • Take your journalism skills to the next level and deepen your understanding of environmental issues by applying for the 2019-2020 Ted Scripps Fellowships in Environmental...
  • The San Juan Mountains Association is seeking a visionary leader to spearhead its public lands stewardship program in southwest Colorado. For a detailed job description...
  • The Cascade Forest Conservancy seeks a passionate ED to lead our forest protection, conservation, education, and advocacy programs.
  • Mountain Pursuit is a new, bold, innovative, western states, hunting advocacy nonprofit headquartered in Jackson, Wyoming. We need a courageous, hard working, passionate Executive Director...
  • The Draper Natural History Museum (DNHM) at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center of the West in Cody, WY, invites applications for the Willis McDonald, IV...
  • Couple seeks quiet, private, off-grid acreage in area with no/low cell phone service and no/low snowfall. Conservation/bordering public lands a plus. CA, OR, WA, ID,...
  • Former northern Sierra winery, with 2208 sq.ft. commercial building, big lot, room to expand.
  • The dZi Foundation is seeking a FT Communications Associate with a passion for Nepal to join our team in Ridgway, Colorado. Visit dzi.org/careers.
  • Available now for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojaidigital.net.
  • Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • 1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • Suitable for planting hay, hemp, fruit. Excellent water rights. 1800 square foot farmhouse, outbuildings, worker housing.
  • More information: jobs.wisc.edu. Search 96076