Abigail Echo-Hawk came across an unpublished study in 2016, shortly after becoming director of the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI). It showed that, of American Indian and Alaska Native women living in Seattle surveyed in 2010, 94 percent reported they had been raped or coerced into sex. More than half were without permanent housing at the time.
Some within UIHI were concerned about how the public would receive the data, but Echo-Hawk pushed for a report. It was released in August.
Why were some people worried about releasing this data?
In the media—whether it be print, TV, movies—Native people are often portrayed as victims, as vanishing. And so there was some hesitancy that this kind of information would just add to that.
How we can change that narrative?
As a victim of sexual violence myself, I know what it means to elevate victims’ voices to show that we are not just surviving but thriving.
We need to see funding directed to indigenous organizations that know how to help our people. The women in this study talk about historical trauma. It’s very hard for an outside organization, an outside entity, to understand historical trauma.
You’ve emphasized that a data point is not a story.
Traditional Western academic institutions call me a researcher. That is not something I associate myself with. I call myself a storyteller of health. As a result of colonialism, data has been gathered for us and about us that was actually never for us. What I do is decolonize data. Every piece of data is a mother, a granddaughter, a wife, a loved one.
In our community, Native women are the carriers of the culture. We have this idea of looking forward seven generations. That is a view that the rest of America could use. Seven generations from now, I don’t want a Native woman to have to talk to her daughter about what to do when she is raped. And so we have passed these stories on.