Concerned groups are gearing up for a protest of Deja Vu Nightclub, a Minneapolis strip club, over an advertisement for a “Titsgiving” event that featured a near-naked Native woman in fringed garb.
“It was shocking,” stated Danielle Kluz, communications director of Breaking Free, an outreach program serving homeless and sexually exploited youth. “We just had this huge Washington team protest with 5,000 activists and then Deja Vu posted that ad. It is so well known here that Native women suffer the highest rate of sexual violence in the country,” she said.
Experts say the advertisement for the event (which also touted a “Free Giant Hot Dog buffet”) highlights a serious problem in the area. Sandi Pierce, Seneca, is a survivor of sex trafficking, a researcher/activist, and a resident of the Twin Cities, and she was equally shocked. “The image of the seductive woman, slightly challenging — it bothers me because our girls see that at 13, 14 years old. They see it as big money and a high paying job, that sex is what they have to trade. That’s the message they get when they see something like this,” she said.
Pierce forwarded the ad to several Native groups and allies, and within half a day, word had spread across the internet. Joining forces are Patricia Shepard, of Minneapolis’ Idle No More, and Reyna Crow, of Idle No More Duluth; the women have planned the Say No To Deja Vu March and Rally to protest Deja Vu’s event. A long list of organizations and speakers, drum groups and more will gather on November 26 at 3:00 pm, at the Northwestern Insurance Building at Hennepin and Washington Avenue and will then march to the Deja Vu Nightclub. More information about the event is available on the event’s Facebook page, “Say No To Deja Vu’s Titsgiving”.
When Pierce first saw the ad in City Pages Minneapolis, she said, “It was like someone spit in my face. When I saw that ad I was furious.” After Pierce complained, the ad was removed from the website.
Pierce compared the image to the historic portrayal of Native women. “In the colonial records, Indian women were bred for the bed rather than bondage, they are seductive, they are just there for male use, and they are asking for it,” Pierce said. “Throughout the colonial records rape was not a problem. That ad was a perfect modern day example of the same attitude, of the sexualization of Indian women.”
In Minnesota, 80 percent of women trafficked for prostitution are Native. “The kids are going into these strip clubs on amateur night for amateur stripping, and the pimps are in the audience. They invite them to a party where they prostitute the kids. The club doesn’t hire them, but they are the facilitators,” Pierce said, adding that police have not been able to stop this. “This is what the youth counselors told us, and it especially effects the kids who are homeless.”
Idle No More’s Shepard agreed. “You find that our homeless youth are prostituting because that is one way for them to have a roof over their head and food to eat.”
“Pimps will give them a place to stay, especially if they are homeless,” Pierce said. “Teen moms terrified of losing their kids to foster care meet this generous person who says, ‘I will give you money and a place to stay,’ and then the child becomes a hostage. It’s very strategic.”
At Breaking Free, Kluz works with such teens. She said, “We looked at the ad and were appalled at how racist it is. Sex trafficking is so hidden.”
According to Kluz, Minneapolis has the 13th highest rate of sex trafficking in the US: “Duluth has a very high rate of trafficked Native girls. It is in Indian country and near several reservations.”
Reyna Crow lives in Duluth and said that when she 15, “I lost my best friend through trafficking for five years. She got out through the underground railroad.” Crow has since met five women who were survivors of the boats in Duluth. “I don’t know an Anishnaabe family here that hasn’t been directly affected by trafficking, and the boats have been a hub for this,” she said.
Crow said that many groups raise money and receive grants, but few of them serve Indigenous women in a culturally appropriate way. “We have been trying to raise grassroots support on this. There is no way to keep women safe here.”
Shepard noted that Canada is suffering an epidemic of missing and murdered women but, Pierce said, “Research said it is happening just as much in the US. In Canada, the government has funded a Native women’s organization to track missing and murdered women. Our government hasn’t made the slightest move to do something like that.”
Pierce said it is the youngest girls who are the most vulnerable to trafficking. “The Native girls walk from the Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex in Bloomington to one of two high schools. The pimps and the sex buyers cruise Bloomington every morning and every afternoon yelling and offering the girls money, a laptop, a day at the spa—these are 13-year-olds and they hear this every single day as they walk to and from school. This is going on now.”
Pierce said the only good news in this situation is that as many non-Native groups are becoming as outraged as the Native organizations and several news sources have featured columns about the problem and Deja Vu’s event. “The non-Native community has jumped on board that this is really not okay. We are even getting publicity from one of the mainstream conservative newspapers, and we don’t usually get that,” she said.