Write the Christmas story for Pretty Bird Woman House

by Andy Ternay of Street Prophets

A frightened woman on the Standing Rock Reservation feels her pregnant belly and checks the weather. It’s below freezing. Should she stay and get beaten again or flee? There’s no money for a hotel. She can’t stay but she can’t risk the lethal cold.

She has called Pretty Bird Woman House women’s shelter, but their building was destroyed by arson. They have no place for her. Georgia Little Shield, Director of Pretty Bird Woman House promised to try shelters on neighboring reservations and see if there was room. The woman feels the baby kick as she stares at the phone, not daring to hope. It rings.

“It’s Georgia,” says the lady on the phone.

“There’s room in another shelter?” asks the woman.

A long silence follows,then Georgia says, “We’ll work something out. Let’s get you safe. Okay?”
Another Christmas; and a expectant mother with nowhere to go. But there is good news: The ending to this story has not been written. You will write the ending.

Georgia Little Shield can’t keep pulling miracles out of thin air. She needs help and we can give it. This is all about what we fight for: giving power to the powerless. Helping women and minorities gain equal treatment. Making wrongs right.

Let me tell you the story thus far…

About Pretty Bird Woman House
The shelter was founded in memory of Ivy Archambault, whose Lakota name translates to Pretty Bird Woman. In 2001, Pretty Bird Woman was kidnapped, raped and beaten to death. Her sister, Jackie Brown Otter, decided that something had to be done for other victims, to put an end to this nightmare.

As things stand now, the situation for women on the Standing Rock Reservation is a nightmare. Amnesty International documented it better than I ever could:

High levels of sexual violence on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation take place in a context of high rates of poverty and crime... The unemployment rate on the Reservation is 71 per cent. Crime rates on the Reservation often exceed those of its surrounding areas. According to FBI figures, in 2005 South Dakota had the fourth highest rate of "forcible rapes" of women of any US state.

Amnesty International was told of five rapes which took place over one week in September 2005. Many survivors reported that they had experienced sexual violence several times in their lives and by different perpetrators. There were also several reports of gang rapes... A common response to such crimes is blame, but directed at the survivor rather than the perpetrator.
When Native American victims of rape report the crime, things only get worse for them:

Tribal and federal authorities have concurrent jurisdiction on all Standing Rock Sioux Reservation lands over crimes where the suspected perpetrator is American Indian. In instances in which the suspected perpetrator is non-Indian, federal officials have exclusive jurisdiction. Neither North nor South Dakota state police have jurisdiction over sexual violence against Native American women on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. State police do, however, have jurisdiction over crimes of sexual violence committed on tribal land in instances where the victim and the perpetrator are both non-Indian.
What does this mean? From the Amnesty report:

"[N]on-Native perpetrators often seek out a reservation place because they know they can inflict violence without much happening to them."
Andrea Smith, Assistant Professor of Native Studies, University of Michigan
Wecome to the world of Rape Tourism.

Georgia Little Shield gives us one example of what victims face in the courtroom:

I recently attended a court sentencing of a man that pled guilty to a charge of sexual assault against a Native American Woman and the Mayor of his town testified that he was an upstanding community member and that the community would accept him back with open arms and to just give him probation.
The First Netroots Miracle
Pretty Bird Woman House represents the first time women on Standing Rock have had a support system in place to tackle these injustices. However, it has been a struggle for Pretty Bird Woman House to survive. It took three years to get off the ground. Finally a grant from the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence hired Georgia Little Shield and things started happening. But in May of 2007 the grant ran out and with no funding, Pretty Bird Woman House looked like it would close its doors. Raising the necessary money on Standing Rock seemed an impossibility. Tribal government remained supportive of the shelter but had no financial resources to share

And where hope appeared to end, that’s where the magic started:

At this time this situation came to the attention of Daily Kos user Norman Bier and he created a chip in page for the effort and followed up with a series of diaries trying to raise funds. And then a miracle happened. Other Daily Kos members diaried about this: flautist, sarac, njgoldfinch and frontpager Devilstower jumped in. From Daily Kos the news spread virally and Christy Hardin-Smith at Firedoglake, mole333 at Culture Kitchen, DB at Queen of Pentacles, William Neuheisel at Creative Evolution.... and many more I have missed kept the torch lit.

The result? Over 680 strangers donated $27,500...

Norman Bier's thank you post at the completion of the first successful fundraising drive
This money was the operating funds for the shelter from May through September of 2007. The Progressive Netroots paid for crisis phone lines, Georgia Little Shield's salary, court costs, operating expenses, food, clothing, toiletries and other incidental expenses. This money literally saved the lives of women on the Standing Rock shelter:

I just got off the phone with Georgia Little Shield... Over the weekend, the shelter received a call from a woman who needed to be evacuated. If this had happened on Thursday, the shelter would not have been able to do much more than take the call. But because of your efforts, Georgia was able to tell this woman: "Don't worry about the money--we have money coming. Just get out and come in."
In late September 2007 a Federal grant was awarded, paying the salaries for Georgia Little Shield and two more full time shelter staff/advocates. The future of Pretty Bird Woman House seemed assured. With the support of the Tribal Government, which donated a building to house women in danger and the federal grant, the pieces had finally come together.

Until vandals, thieves and arsonists destroyed the house.

Losing The House
The first signs of danger came when Pretty Bird Woman House offered shelter to a woman whose batterer had a record of extreme violence. Fearing for her safety, they transferred her to a shelter off of the reservation. The next day someone cut the shelter's phone lines. After this, unknown men kicked and tore a hole through the drywall wide enough to walk through and looted the shelter of anything they could carry: televisions, computers, clothing, toiletries (all donated or purchased with donations) - literally anything that could be carried. This happened in broad daylight while the shelter was empty - the staff were all absent transporting women to court or other shelters. Clearly the perpetrators watched for such an opportunity.

Local government and Pretty Bird Woman House realized that the shelter could not function safely. The staff moved out into unheated donated office space. The day after they moved out the crisis line got a telephone call:

Lady, your shelter is on fire, they are burning down your shelter.
Arsonists had thrown some kind of molotov cocktail through a basement window, setting fire to the building.

This blow dealt a terrible setback to Pretty Bird Woman House. The grants they depend on require that they have a building. All the advantages they gained - not having to make three and four hour trips transporting women to neighboring shelters (assuming those shelters had room), having a stable base of operations - vanished.

It seemed like the five years of work that had gone into creating the shelter, all the efforts of the progressive blogosphere and the donations of the tribal council… all of that was for nothing.

The Second Netroots Miracle Begins
Then, in late October this year, Betsy Campisi, a PhD student and a volunteer from the previous fundraising effort for Pretty Bird Woman House called shelter director Georgia Little Shield to see how the things were going. Betsy was completely unaware of the problems facing the shelter. When the thieves stole the computers they also stole all of the email addresses of the people who had put together the first fundraising drive. Georgia had no idea how to get in touch with her internet friends who had helped out last time

Betsy immediately put up a Chip-In page and she and Georgia decided to shoot for the moon – $70,000. On the Standing Rock reservation, that will buy you a house and a $10,000 security system.

Betsy and Winter Rabbit began to diary about Pretty Bird Woman House on Daily Kos, Docudharma, Culture Kitchen, Street Prophets and other venues… and money trickled in. Then Devilstower agreed to front page a diary of mine on Daily Kos and that got a lot of attention – and then a commenter posted a challenge: if we could reach $10,000 by 9pm, he would give whatever it took to bring the total to $15,000. Kossacks like a challenge! People donated like mad, everything from $5.00 donations to $1,500 donations came in! It was amazing as people challenged each other, left and right. When Georgia Little Shield woke up the next morning, Pretty Bird Woman House had $15,000 in the bank.

Since then the netroots has not slowed its generousity or creativity. It’s like riding a tiger – before you can internalize what is happening, something even newer and better is taking place.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Bowden, www.digitallyrefreshing.com

And people have noticed:

I think this is, what we say in Lakota country, Ata Kili, Lela Waste.... in other words "Cool beyond words, and really good". I'm from the neighboring resevation and understand how important it is for woman and children to have a safe and warm place to escape to. I was one of those women, years ago, with two babies, that had to run in the extreme cold to escape an abuser.

Each and every one of you who have donated are indeed helping to create a save haven for women and children. And although they may not get to thank you in person, each one is silently thanking you as they will finally be able to crawl into a safe and warm bed and sleep safely…

thank you for being dedicated to PBWH and creating this blog.... Zintkala Waste Wiyan (Pretty Bird Woman) is smiling and thanking you from the heavens…
From Shirley Erhart, Member of the Board of Directors PBWH:

I just feel as if we, as a B.O.D, have been so remiss in not expressing our wonder and awe at what the good folks out there have done and are doing for Pretty Bird Woman House… I think one of the biggest problems is that there are not words to truly convey how we feel… Our vision, our dreams for the women of Standing Rock....it's happening and it is happening because of folks the likes of yourself, Norman, your colleagues, and all of the caring folks out there who believe and want to make a difference in the world…

What I'm saying is the actions of all of you… tells women and their children...."we believe you and you don't have to live that way. You have a right to be safe and we're going to help you be safe."
And from Georgia Little Shield:

It just seems that we can not tell you in words how much your group of humans have done for us and to thank you all for your support … My feelings of how much you mean to me and our group here in McLaughlin can not be told in words that we are so proud to have been introduced to so many understanding men and women. Thank you from the bottom of my heart…

As it stands, we have just over $50,000. Enough that Pretty Bird Woman House is putting in a bid on a house across the street from the police station. We are almost there, just a mere $20,000 short. I told you that the ending had not been written for this Christmas story; now is the time we write that ending. Will the expectant mother find a sanctuary or not?

Now is your chance to write that ending. Now is your chance to give sanctuary, not just to this one hypothetical woman, but to thousands of women, throughout the years that Pretty Bird Woman House will serve this community. Let’s make this ending a happy one.

So, please, if you can DONATE.

Pretty Bird Woman House is a 501 (c) 3 charitable organization.

Don’t do it if you can’t afford it – only if you can. There are other ways you can help, if you can’t donate or if you want to do more.

You can blog about it and spread the word. Feel free to take any material from this diary or the Pretty Bird Woman House Blog that you need.

Install our Facebook Application – that earns money for the shelter.

We have a team working on an application for Extreme Home Makeover (please don't bombard them with requests to do PBWH - trust us, we have a way to approach them that offers a lot of promise).

Another team is approaching Oprah.

We are signed up for igive which gives a percentage of your online shopping to PBWH – please do this, it cost free and a percentage of all of your online purchases go to Pretty Bird Woman House.

What are we failing to do? Join our Yahoo Group and tell us!

Finally, for those of you who need more info, here are Links:
Pretty Bird Woman House Blog - many more resources and links here!!
Amnesty International Report-Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA
Why traditional fundraising avenues are closed to Pretty Bird Woman House

One important final note: men are also victims of domestic violence. Since we are discussing a women’s shelter, the examples I have given are of men abusing women. I don’t want to detract from male victims; they too deserve recognition and support. This isn’t about hating men; it’s about helping people.

Thank you so much for your generosity and kindness this holiday season. Blessings to you and yours.

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(Cross-posted at Street Prophets.)

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