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Spotlight: Examining Domestic Violence Native American Communities

By David Schonauer   Wednesday September 27, 2017


The statistics are shocking:

One in two Native American women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. One in three will be raped.

U.S. Government policies, judicial loopholes and prejudice stereotypes born out of a historical approach of “annihilation and assimilation” and still in effect are directly responsible for the epidemic in American Indian Communities today, says photographer and filmmaker Marlon Krieger, who has spent five years putting faces to those numbers in his short documentary Hearts In the Ground, which we feature today. The film is based on the personal stories of two survivors of sexual violence and infused with Native American history.

 “Hearts on the Ground  is not about showing a victimized people looking for help, but rather about showing empowered survivors making a difference,” Krieger notes.

The film, part of a larger documentary project that also includes still photographs, focuses on work being done by American Indian Community Housing (AICHO), a housing project for women and children in the seven counties around Duluth, Minnesota. AICHO partners with Mending the Sacred Hoop, an organization devoted to ending violence and strengthening the voices of Native American women. Both organizations, along with another called Men As Peacemakers, have supported Krieger’s work. Krieger has been shooting at a number of reservations, including White Earth, Red Lake and Fond du Lac and Boise Forte.

“This project is about breaking down preconceived stereotypes and understanding people in terms of who they are today by the past they have lived,” says Krieger, who was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografía 3 competition.

Below, Krieger describes the challenges he faced in making the film.

Marlon Krieger on making Hearts in the Ground

It was while researching another project that I encountered the alarming statistics about domestic violence within the American Indigenous communities. After reading history books and reports from sources such as Amnesty International, I came across  an organization called Mending the Sacred Hoop, which is based in Duluth, Minnesota. I reached out to them and took my first trip to Duluth on March 10, 2013, after requesting an interview with Tina Olson, the executive director and founder of Mending the Sacred Hoop.

The biggest challenge in trying to digest and tell this story has been in dealing with the weight of the realities I was learning about. I had planned to write an article to accompany a photo essay, but I was quickly overwhelmed by the stories and the scope of a history I knew surprisingly little about. I turned to filming, at first, just to help record information. Over time, with so much footage, I started turning towards a short documentary. I shot with a Canon 5D with various lenses and a microphone. I believe in a small footprint when working.

When I started, I was sensitive to being an outsider. I believed that there must be two sides to the story, an angle I hadn’t yet found. I began as a neutral observer, looking for information and contradictions. At this point it would be misleading to call myself a neutral observer: I firmly believe that policy and racism are at the root of the problem facing Indigenous communities in the United States. Incidentally, this is not unique to the American Indigenous experience; Indigenous people the world over have faced similar challenges from boarding schools, land theft, and marginalization.

At this point I’ve taken a break from the photographing and filming due to lack of funding, but I am still actively looking for outlets for the work.
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For more on Krieger's projeect, see this article at Viewfind.

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