The Grand Council of the Crees

2010 Eeyou Istchee Family Violence Symposium in Chisasibi, Quebec

Remarks of Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2010-11-16

Good morning, I bring greetings to all who are here today.

I want to thank organizers for this symposium, the CRA Department of Justice and the Cree Womens Association and all who helped fund this event, we thank you.

Today, I ask for your understanding on what I’m about to say and violence that is in our communities is at a point where we must act now and not wait till something happens.

Domestic abuse does not just affect partners, it affects children. 50% of men who frequently assault their wives also abuse their children. It may be that less than half of domestic assaults are ever reported. These assaults: the battering, the rape, the threats and the bullying happen behind closed doors and even sometimes out in the open. However, the many forms of Abuse such as this is largely done in secret.

Violence against women is a criminal act. Violence against anyone is a criminal act.

Yet why do we as a society still insist that this is domestic affair that can be sorted out? Domestic violence is not a private matter.

We need to break down the door and drag it out into the light.

We need to ask ourselves hard questions as a society. What is it that we are allowing to happen and what can we do to address this shameful state of affairs that lead to so much pain and misery?

Domestic violence is not just physical. It can be psychological and even financial. It extends to forced marriage and so called “honour crimes”. The results may seem somehow minor, a black eye, a bruise they extend to broken bones, depression, anxiety and social isolation.

In the main this is a crime perpetrated by men. This is not to belittle those men who are physically attacked by their partners. Largely and most shockingly this is a crime done by men to women and children.

There is no respecting age culture or boundaries. Battering happens all over the world. Can any of us accept that domestic violence is the most common cause of injury to women aged 15 to 44? I do believe the Cree Nation will find positive solutions.

Those who perpetrate this violence do so in order to control their victim. They do so to get what they want.

Abuse is a choice. It is a conscious decision made by the abuser. There is no excuse (men stopping violence). Yet we still peddle a collection of myths that there is a reason. Batterers continually deny their responsibility. It is still common to hear excuses such as ‘she asked for it’, or ‘I was provoked’.

There is a tendency for us as society to accept that violence like this is the “consequence of stress, individual pathology, substance abuse or simply as a result of a dysfunctional relationship.”

Behaviour is minimised, ‘It was just a slap’, or it is denied.

It is incredible that we as a society even listen to these excuses. Our attitudes perpetuate these myths and help re enforce these attitudes. We think that in some circumstances victims are to blame. We hold notions that the ‘family’ comes before the safety of women and children.

We tolerate the use of violence. We are continually expressing the view that domestic violence is a private matter. We even bring this attitude into the work place. We might suspect or even know victims and even in some cases that someone is suffering. Do we really think that this is none of our business? How can we tolerate that this happens at all?

“Why don’t they just leave” is another commonly put about response. Did you know that on average it takes between five to eight years for a victim of such abuse to leave a relationship?

Neither is that the end of it. The threats, the stalking and violence continues. Typically there will be promises of fresh starts and even remorse in cycles that are laughingly known as honeymoon phases. Yet it does not get better. The violence always returns.

We cannot blame anyone else other than the attitudes we hold that allow this to happen. It is not enough to say we are appalled. We should be ashamed and we should shame those men who abuse.

This is not about unhappy marriages or even dysfunctional relationships. It is about one person exercising power over another and causing them to live in fear.

The root of this control is a sense of entitlement that is supported by a sexist belief, this is not a Cree thing to do. Abusers choose to behave violently to get what they want and gain control. They believe fundamentally that their partner cannot be trusted.

They believe that a woman has less value and that their opinions, feelings and point of view is not valid. To say that abuse and violence is learned behaviour is not enough. It does not explain why women who are not violent do not exert the same influence in relationships. If boys believe that a woman’s influence is not as important, then we can see that sexism is already in place.

Some people say that an abuser has a problem communicating and expressing his feelings. The hard truth is an abuser is good at expressing feelings through violence, manipulation and control and even by showing ‘remorse’.

We must find ways to help the abuser to express their hurt in other ways that aren’t hurtful and find solutions to help them.

The fact is he has a very good range of emotions that he uses to control and intimidate.

The question we have to ask is this. Why do men want or feel the need to have the power and control in a relationship? Why are they incapable to a large degree of respecting and treating a woman as a complimentary equal? This is tough question, but it not enough to say that a just a few men hold these Cree belief systems.

Clearly many men do and as a result, they make countless lives ones of fear and misery. Many women too think that they have to put with this belief.

We have to take battering and abuse out of the home look at it as our problem, in the church, in the workplace, where we are. It is not enough to know that there are some organisations out there struggling to raise funds to give shelter to women and children who have been able to flee the home.

Is there a link between our cultural norms and our message about women and the personally held belief that abusers have? You bet there is. Sheltering their victims or those who can escape and locking up some perpetrators is not sorting it, challenging it or changing it. We should be shouting and clamouring for fundamental changes and dialogue. (Domestic) Violence is anything but a private matter.

So today, if you agree that we must end violence, there’s a white ribbon at every table here, and when you make that choice to wear it and it is your expression say no more to violence and that you will act and be “part of the change that we seek”.
I strongly believe that we will see Safe Homes, Stronger Communities.

Thank you.
God bless all of you.