Academic journal article Family Relations

Historical Oppression and Indigenous Families: Uncovering Potential Risk Factors for Indigenous Families Touched by Violence

Academic journal article Family Relations

Historical Oppression and Indigenous Families: Uncovering Potential Risk Factors for Indigenous Families Touched by Violence

Article excerpt

In this article I explore how historical oppression has been imposed on and has been internalized into the daily lives of many Indigenous American families (Burnette, 2015), heightening Indigenous women's vulnerability to violence. Historical oppression is defined as the intergenerational, chronic, and insidious experiences of subjugation experienced by Indigenous communities. The term Indigenous was chosen because it acknowledges the distinct social, political (e.g., sovereign status in the United States based on a legal and trust responsibility from the federal government to safeguard the lives of Indigenous peoples; Committee on Indian Affairs, 2007), and diverse cultural histories of Indigenous peoples who share a history of colonization (Gray, Coates, & Bird, 2013).

Violence against Indigenous women in the United States is higher than for any other racial group and has been characterized as an urgent public health and safety issue (Crossland, Palmer, & Brooks, 2013), but less is understood about violence experienced by Indigenous peoples than by any other racial group (Matamonasa-Bennett, 2014). This lack of understanding limits practitioners' ability to address and treat this injustice. The present study focused on understanding Indigenous families affected by violence; families are highly salient for Indigenous communities (Red Horse, 1997), and Indigenous women who have experienced violence overwhelmingly rely on families for support and recovery (Dalla, Marchetti, Sechrest, & White, 2010).

Although risk factors for violence against Indigenous women span legal, social, professional, and personal dimensions (Crossland et al., 2013), the present study was limited to family-level risk factors as they relate to adult Indigenous women who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), which can include actual or threatened physical, sexual, or psychological violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). IPV includes violence by a current or former partner. For the purpose of this qualitative inquiry, risk factors included those factors that emerged in Indigenous women's family systems that may create vulnerability and impair recovery from violence. The focus on risk factors does not negate the presence of protective factors, which warrant a separate inquiry. The scope of this research focused on Indigenous peoples living in the contiguous United States, who include the more than 5 million people (Norris, Vines, Hoeffel, & U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2012) belonging to 566 federally recognized tribes (Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2014) and around 400 non-federally recognized tribes (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2012).

Largely absent from the literature is research on family-level risk factors that make Indigenous women vulnerable to violence and impair their ability to recover. Despite some research on risk factors related to violence against Indigenous women more generally (Crossland et al., 2013; Jones, 2008; Matamonasa-Bennett, 2014; Wahab & Olson, 2004), the majority of research on violence focuses on non-Indigenous populations. Likewise, the extant research fails to acknowledge how violence transcends individual partnerships and affects families (Tolan, Gorman-Smith, & Henry, 2006). Wahab and Olson (2004) and Jones (2008) have emphasized the lack of empirical research on risk factors related to differing forms of family violence in Indigenous communities, such as IPV.

Holistic qualitative research, which incorporates contextual and relational aspects, is particularly useful because all family members are affected when violence occurs, and qualitative research enhances the understanding of these intricacies (Tolan et al., 2006; Williams, 2003). Furthermore, differing forms of violence in families may share underlying causes and interventions (Tolan et al., 2006; Williams, 2003). Thus, research that reveals the complexities of families affected by violence in Indigenous communities is a necessary precursor to developing culturally relevant interventions to prevent and treat such violence (Tolan et al. …

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