"Go out and live safe and powerful lives!" -- Turtle Mountain and IMPACT Boston

On July 6th, 2018, the airport in Minot, North Dakota, was full of excitement. As Meg Stone, executive director of IMPACT Boston, and her colleague Ben Comeau, a suited instructor, came down the escalator to greet the team from Turtle Mountain Empowerment Self-Defense, there was happy shouting, energetic waving, and kisses being blown:

We often talk about “the power of one” and how one woman has the power to positively impact one community that will then have the power to impact the world.

The success of Turtle Mountain Empowerment Self-Defense can be traced back to the power of one woman, Shanda Poitra, who signed up for her first empowerment self-defense class because she needed a gym credit.

But, as the story goes, Poitra ended up with more than a gym credit. She found strength. She found her voice. She left her abusive boyfriend of eleven years, returned to the reservation where she grew up, and began to build a new and better life for herself and her children.

Her journey into empowerment self-defense didn’t stop there. It wasn’t enough for her to be the only woman in her community with self-defense skills. Ten years later, Poitra attended ESD Global’s Instructor Bootcamp with friends and now colleagues Sara Rae Davis, and Jessica DeCoteau.

These three women have decided to combine their individual power and create some serious yet positive and needed change in their community.

According to the Turtle Mountain team:

"We have young women leaving their nests to go off to college, we have women being harassed in their own community, we have women of all ages who are afraid to be alone in their homes because of people breaking in. We have a high rate of domestic, sexual, and mental abuse. Our Native women are going missing and being murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average! We need to do something about this."

They certainly are taking action, and thanks to IMPACT Boston, they aren't working alone. Since meeting at camp last year, Meg Stone has become a trusted friend and mentor.

In March, the women from Turtle Mountain visited Boston for a special 20 hour IMPACT training. Not long after, they began teaching.

Now, they’ve set their sights even higher and have decided to start their very own IMPACT chapter, along with suited-instructor trainees Wes Davis, and James DeCoteau.

This recent visit from IMPACT Boston was the next step in accomplishing that goal.

Over the course of five days, the Turtle Mountain and IMPACT Boston teams offered seven classes, many of which were geared towards middle and high school girls.

Poitra explains that, “The curriculum/language of each class shifted depending on age appropriateness, but all of the classes covered very important scenarios which we too often find ourselves in; not only as women, but as Native American women.”

But all of the classes focused on the use of voice, boundary setting, and de-escalation.

Davis adds, “A huge part of IMPACT is using your voice and know about your surroundings. What an uncomfortable situation is and how to get out of it respectfully. And if it comes to a dangerous situation, they are taught tools to protect themselves physically and verbally, and most importantly, ask for help.”

At the sight of the suited instructors, some of the participants were prone to giggles. But once they became comfortable, they took the training seriously and began sharing personal stories.

Poitra remembers, “During times of shyness and hesitation, we talked about how we felt about the fact that organizations like Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women even exist, we talked about the tragedy that Savanna Greywind endured, we talked about Olivia Lone Bear and the many other women that are still missing. We began to notice the students change their perspective and their expressions went from silly and funny to serious and pragmatic… it was then that they knew WHY we want to bring this class to the reservation and WHY we want to empower our Native sisters.”

The sharing played a large role in the students’ ability to embrace their inner power. Wes Davis, and James DeCoteau are going to have to get used to being knocked off their feet. Poitra told us proudly that “. . . these women were able to unleash the power that they had all along; they used a strong stance and strong voices to ward off unwanted attention and/or attacks.”

It’s wonderful to see that the hard work of both teams, and the students, has not gone unnoticed by local press and other IMPACT chapters.

And the team from IMPACT Boston is eager to help make that happen.

“I am honored to be working with a team of wonderful, fierce women and men who are hoping to train as IMPACT instructors so that this program can be a permanent part of their community,” Stone wrote on Facebook as a way of introducing a fundraiser that will help with the $10,000 start-up cost.

The dream of starting an IMPACT chapter might have begun thanks to Poitra’s fierce determination, but there is no question that the combined power of the Turtle Mountain instructors is quickly multiplying.

Several participants commented that they now feel like they are part of a sisterhood, and are going to pass on their newfound knowledge of ESD to their family members, both female and male.

This review, from Winter D, a middle school participant, sums up the project perfectly:

“It’s important for our young Native women to take Empowerment classes because many Native women are being taken from their families and the empowerment classes are useful for that kind of stuff. Now I could defend myself in time and get to an adult.”

We are certain that Winter, and all of the participants, are well on their way to embracing and multiplying their “power of one.”

They will, as Meg Stone instructed them to do, “go out and life safe and powerful lives.”

Stay up to date up-to-date on this story by following Turtle Mountain on Facebook, and donate to their growing IMPACT chapter.

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