On March 1st, a team from the Turtle Mountain reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota traveled more than halfway across the US to participate in a 20-hour women’s self-defense course at IMPACT Boston. This is the first step in a collaboration designed to bring the IMPACT program to the Turtle Mountain reservation.
Empowerment self-defense training for the community of the Turtle Mountain reservation is greatly needed. According to the 2016 National Institute of Justice Report, 56% of Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. The high rates of sexual violence are closely interconnected with the likelihood of Native women going missing or being murdered, and on some reservations, they are murdered at more than ten times the national average. In 2016, North Dakota alone had 125 cases of missing Native women reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), compared to 5,712 total Native women cases reported in the United States. However, the actual number is likely much higher, as cases of missing Native women are often under-reported and the data has never been officially collected.
Shanda Poitra, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and one of the weekend’s trainees, explains that her goal is “...to teach our Native women how to recognize potential violence, set boundaries, use their voices, be assertive, and should it come to physical violence - possess the techniques to defend themselves. Having been trained to this extent, we feel an extreme responsibility to our people in teaching violence prevention. We believe we can see significant results in the high rates of violence and sexual assault in our community and state once our people have the tools to manage such vulnerable situations.”
The training, which was funded by a scholarship from IMPACT Boston, plane tickets from ESD Global, and a small grant from the Turtle Mountain Tribal Council, fit perfectly with that goal.
One part of the training involved learning physical defensive maneuvers including elbow strikes, eye gouges, and kicks. After learning these skills, the women were given opportunities to use them against padded attackers who presented common assault scenarios, ranging from street harassment and physical violence to sexual assaults perpetrated by people they knew.
Other parts of the training were dedicated to verbal defense, boundary-setting and de-escalation skills, in which the women practiced using assertive voices and body language to thwart off attacks.
The various aspects of the training were brought together during the graduation ceremony, during which the women had to use both physical and verbal tools to defend themselves in situations they hadn’t prepared for.
Two men from the Turtle Mountain reservation who are interested in training to become suited instructors observed the class. Though they do have some trepidation about the road ahead, both men are ready and determined to take on the responsibility of doing whatever is necessary to create a safer community for the women of Turtle Mountain, and have shown genuine interest in the mission.
The visit also included meetings with IMPACT Boston’s executive director Meg Stone, who has become the team’s mentor. Meg is supporting the team as they develop the resources their community needs to prevent gender-based violence. She looks forward to working with them “to create an IMPACT program that is unique to the needs and realities of people on the Turtle Mountain reservation. I hope and expect this process to challenge the way I see empowerment self-defense and am strongly committed to elevating women of color and indigenous women as leaders in the feminist self-defense movement.”
Throughout the entire course, the team had tremendous support from each other and the IMPACT Boston community. Beth Capotosto, an instructor from Tenacity Women’s Self-Defense who also participated in the IMPACT training, commented that, “We had fantastic coaches with us the entire time. There was always someone present with us on the mat, talking us through what to do and guiding us in case we needed clarity. In addition, all of the women participating in the course were cheering each other on from the sidelines, which created an atmosphere of support and empowerment.”
ESD Global Camp 2017 brought together the Turtle Mountain and Boston women and will continue to support their collaboration. ESD Global’s primary goal is to make empowerment self-defense training as accessible as CPR certification and swimming lessons. We are eager to follow the team from Turtle Mountain as they work towards making ESD accessible to the women of their community and open a new IMPACT chapter.
We hope this is the first of many similar collaborations and success stories to come!
Read a follow-up to this story here.