TULSA, Okla. – The palpable energy of women gathering has brought a fierce catalyst against violence toward females. Through the global movement of V-Day, communities have promoted awareness, established resources and empowered women worldwide with events that bring funding into communities.
V-Day was established in October 1998 as an outgrowth of V-Day founder Eve Ensler’s play “The Vagina Monologues,” which is based on Ensler’s interviews with more than 200 women. The play celebrates female sexuality and strength and exposes the violations that women endure throughout the world. As Ensler performed the play around the globe, it solidified the importance of women’s issues beyond any political boundaries. V-Day generates attention to confront world-wide violence against women and girls including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery. The V in V-Day stands for Victory, Valentine and Vagina.
On Feb. 19, Spirits of Hope Coalition, a nonprofit Skiatook, Okla.-based domestic violence organization, will sponsor V-Day with a benefit performance of “The Vagina Monologues” performed by Ensler along with a benefit dinner with guest speaker Jane Fonda. Local Native woman Erin Blaylock, Osage and Cherokee, will perform “The Crooked Braid.” Fonda will be holding press conferences to raise awareness of the issue of violence against Native women. Ensler and Fonda will also be honoring three local Vagina Warrior Women.
Last year V-Day was held in 900 venues around the world. In 2004, Spirits of Hope will be one of hundreds of events around the world channeling creative energy into the collective voice of the V-Day Worldwide Campaign. The event entered Indian country because of the high rates of violence perpetrated against Native women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the average annual rate of rape and sexual assault among American Indian women is 3.5 times higher than all other races. The rate continues to rise while Indian women and girls remain an at-risk population. According to V-Day volunteers, Indian women often feel unable to redress the violence because of complicated jurisdictional problems and lack or resources.
V-Day made its first visit to Indian country on April 20, 2002, with the performance of the “Vagina Monologues” in Rapid City, S.D. This benefit, titled, “On Sacred Ground ? a Safe Place,” inspired the Indian Country Project, a campaign to end violence against women on all American Indian and Canadian First Nation lands. The benefit raised $50,000 toward building a new shelter on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
Soon after, American Indian activist Suzanne Blue Star Boy, a member of the Ihanktonwan (Yankton Dakota) tribe from South Dakota, joined V-Day to lead the Indian Country Project. This year alone, reservations in South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico and Alaska will be hosting V-Day events in their rural communities.
Blue Star Boy will travel across Indian country to collaborate with American Indian and First Nations women working to end violence and to educate on V-Day as a means to raise funds and consciousness within their communities.
The Indian Country Project will also work to build coalition to strengthen tribal commitments to end violence, beginning with the work of a newly formed non-traditional advisory group, the Kitchen Cabinet, composed of Blue Star Boy and Native women distinguished by their leadership abilities and years of experience in addressing women’s issues on tribal lands. Members include Tantoo Cardinal, the American Indian actress who has appeared in films including “Dances With Wolves” and “Smoke Signals,” among many others; Tillie Black Bear, a founding member of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who also helped form the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Award; Peggy Bird, a private consultant working with Clan Star, Inc., the technical assistance provider for the tribal coalitions and former director of DNA’s Native American Family Violence Prevention Project; Sarah Deer, staff attorney for the Tribal Law & Policy Institute in West Hollywood, Calif., who also worked for DOJ for several years as the director of the STOP GRANTS and VAWA money with the tribes; and Eileen Hudon, currently working in Minnesota on domestic violence and sexual assault issues. Hudon was formerly the director of Songidee Biimadaziwin, a sexual assault program at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.
The programs are possible in large part through the generosity of local sponsors. V-Day was named one of Worth Magazine’s “100 Best Charities” in 2001. In its first five years, the V-Day movement has raised more than $20 million. For more information, visit www.vday.org.