Turtle Mountain Team Starts their Journey to Becoming an IMPACT Program

"Impact International officially approves your entry into the process of becoming a certified chapter."

~ IMPACT International Chapter Development Committee

Since attending ESD Global’s very first instructor training in 2017, Shanda Poitra and Sara Rae Davis have been offering empowerment self-defense workshops for girls and women on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.

But now, thanks to ongoing support from IMPACT Boston and ESD Global, they’ll also be offering IMPACT training, a personal safety, assertiveness, and self-defense program.

From the moment they discovered IMPACT, Shanda and Sara knew they wanted to teach it and help the women in their community connect with their inner and outer strength.

Having access to IMPACT training with a curriculum specifically designed to meet the needs of their community will be life-changing for the women of Turtle Mountain. From eye strikes to learning how to set a verbal boundary, having self-defense skills will help them play a larger role in preventing violence and reducing the number of cases of missing and murdered indigenous women (#MMIW).

Becoming a certified IMPACT chapter is a long process, but a recent visit to IMPACT Boston, where the Turtle Mountain team received training from and taught under the supervision of executive director Meg Stone and program coordinator Adrianna Li, brought them one giant step closer to their goal.

Teaching IMPACT for the 1st Time

“I’m not beating myself up over what was missed, only taking note; that’s the wonderful thing about empowerment self-defense, you also learn self-care! I’m allowing myself the time it takes to get this right.”

~ Shanda Poitra

During their time in Boston, Shanda and Sara taught two groups, and loved every second they spent with each.

The first group was made up of brand new students who had never taken a self-defense class, let alone an IMPACT workshop, and teaching beginners felt natural and fun.

However, the second group, which included representatives from ESD Global, was a bit more stressful. Teaching powerful women whom they admired and looked up to was intimidating.

But they were determined, and they knew they had to step up their game and connect all the pieces of the curriculum, and deliver it a timely, articulate manner.

Another challenge they faced was expressing their enthusiasm even when concentrating on the material, the moves, and the flow of the classes.

Both women were worried about their ability to teach to the level of the experienced instructors from IMPACT Boston, and over the course of the workshops, they lay awake at night thinking about what they could have done differently.

But when faced with doubts, Meg and Adrianna were quick to boost their confidence and helped them get on track without stepping in.

Once both classes came to an end, Shanda and Sara realized how many different ways there are to teach, and recognized that their trainers from IMPACT Boston knew exactly how to bring out their strengths and help them become the best instructors they could be.

Just as Shanda and Sara had confidence in Meg, Meg had confidence in them. She shared on Facebook that, “It is such an honor to work with people who are so clear in their purpose and committed to creating the change that will make their community and other indigenous communities safer.”

Challenges and Developing “Must Have Skills”

“I believe the most important skill or quality you need to be an IMPACT instructor is to have heart. You need to believe in what you are teaching. You need to sympathize with your students but be 100% honest in critiquing their physical and verbal skills.”

~ Sara Rae Davis

Compassion, enthusiasm, and the ability to read students’ body language and make sure that they’re okay mentally, emotionally, and physically are all traits Shanda and Sara feel will make them successful instructors.

They have faith that as they gain more teaching experience, they’ll have a better grasp of time management and instinctively know when it’s important to spend more time on a specific task or keep things rolling.

But they also recognize that it’s important to be flexible.

Shanda reminded us of this piece of advice from ESD Global’s president and founder, Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman: “One thing I will always remember… ‘Shift happens.’”

Teaching in Cooperation With Suited Instructors

“The biggest challenge we face is having to bring these characters alive who have been terrorizing our people for years. These people we act as have taken Native lives, murdered our Native women and children, attacked our Native grandparents with racial slurs and aggression. This historical trauma is hard for us to deal with and one of our biggest challenges.”

~ Wesley Davis, Suited-Instructor​​

What sets IMPACT apart from other forms of ESD training is the inclusion of suited-instructors who are trained to portray realistic assailants and use verbal threats, coercion, and aggressive body language in scenarios with students.​​

In order to offer IMPACT, the team from Turtle Mountain needed the addition of male instructors, and Wesley Davis and James Decoteau stepped up to the plate.

The training began with learning about the suit and why it is built the way it is.

In addition to helping them develop confidence with their physical skills, understanding that the suit can take huge powerful blows with minimal impact to the body gave Wesley and James confidence that transferred to their ability to play believable characters with traits commonly found in “Indian Country,” which is a skill they are still working on.

After a lifetime of being taught to never verbally or physically abuse women (or anybody), learning to play an awful person on the mat has been a challenge, and not just for the men.

Shanda and Sara are still learning to avoid having “giggle fits” when confronted with men they know well playing the role of “bad guy.” The language is often so vulgar and out of character it still shocks them.

The trainees, both male and female, are all grateful for the mentorship of Mike Perry and Ben Comeau, whose experience in the suit is, as they put it, “second to none.”

Next Steps

“I am so proud of them and grateful for the mentorship that Meg has given them. It was amazing to see how these two women have grown since attending camp two years ago, and exciting to see that they’re on their way to becoming IMPACT instructors in their community.”


~ Beth Capotosto, Administrator, ESD Global

Looking all involved, looking back at all the time, effort, and energy that's gone into their dream of starting a new IMPACT chapter has been somewhat overwhelming and emotional.

But the dream is now a reality, and the time has come to get to work.

Currently, the Turtle Mountain Team is working on designing three to four-hour workshops for women and girls.

Their next step will be learning to teach IMPACT: Ability so that they’ll be able to offer self-defense training to students with disabilities. This is particularly exciting for Sara, who has been working with special needs students for over ten years.

Eventually, they hope to expand their course offerings to accommodate the reservation’s “two-spirit” (LGBTQ) community, children, and maybe someday, men.

No matter what they’re teaching, the team from Turtle Mountain will be sure to hold on to this piece of advice from Meg:

“Never forget why you are doing this and why it’s so important. IMPACT is hard work, but the transformation students experience makes it more than worth it.”

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