Copyright 2011 Carolyn Gage Introduction to Little Sister In 2010, Amnesty International published a report titled, “Maze of Injustice

: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA.” This play was inspired by a desire to respond, as a playwright, to the situation documented in that report, by my personal experiences in witnessing stories from Native American women within my TwelveStep recovery community, and by my ongoing commitment to the cultural reclamation of lesbians and so-called masculine, or “butch” women who have been erased from history. According to the Amnesty report, Native American women are at least 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes as other women in the United States, and at least eighty-six percent of reported rapes or other sexual assaults against Indigenous women are committed by non-Indian men who are rarely prosecuted or punished. The failure to pursue justice in such cases is due to a number of factors, the report noted, including chronic under-funding of police and health services, and a “complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that is so confusing that it often allows perpetrators to evade justice entirely.” While tribal governments have substantial autonomy over their internal affairs, the federal government has steadily eroded their justice systems, particularly in areas that involve non-Native individuals or interests. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled that tribal governments cannot prosecute criminal defendants who are non-Indian even if the crime of which they are accused takes place on tribal lands. In addition, tribal authorities, many of whose communities suffer the highest poverty rates in the U.S., are chronically under-financed, leading to major gaps in law enforcement and the availability of social and health services as compared to non-Native communities. Finally, federal law imposes restrictions on the sentencing, and historically


tribal courts could not hand down prison sentences longer than one year. “What this amounts to is a travesty of justice for the tens of thousands of Indigenous survivors of rape,” said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty’s U.S. section. “Violence against women is not only a criminal or social issue—it is also a human rights abuse,” he added. “In failing to ensure that Indigenous women are protected from violence, the U.S. government is complicit in violating their human rights. It is disgraceful that such abuse even exists today.” There is frequently reluctance on the part of all victims of domestic and sexual violence to report to authorities, but Native American women have valid reasons for their fear of retaliation and their lack of confidence that the authorities will take allegations of assault seriously. According to Sarah Deer, an attorney with the Trival Law and Policy Institute, “American Indian and Alaska Native women are living in a virtual war zone, where rape, abuse and murder are commonplace and sexual predators prey with impunity. In many tribal communities, rape and molestation are so common that young women fully expect that they will be victims of sexual violence at some point.” It is this “expectation” of victimhood that becomes so pernicious, and in all of my work, it is my hope to infuse women with attitudes of entitlement that will become a bulwark for resistance. Entitlement can derive from ill-gotten privilege, but it can also come from heritage and historical antecedents. The stories of Lozen generate a paradigm of empowered women warriors, uncompromising in prioritizing the welfare of women and children. Lozen, as noted in the play, was nearly erased from history because of her Two-Spirit identity. Generally erasure of the masculine woman is a function of misogyny and/or homophobia, but in this case, Lozen’s near-erasure was motivated by a desire, on the part of her Chiricahua people, to protect her reputation.


In my play, I attempt to incorporate the conflicting views about use of histories recorded by white people, and also the problematic nature of ascribing a lesbian or butch identity to a historical, indigenous figure. The Two-Spirit tradition has by no means eradicated homophobia in Native American communities, and I wanted to write a play that celebrated the “out” lesbians in these communities and that addressed the prejudice they face where the traditional values of the Catholic church have become woven into the fabric of Native life. The N’dee (“Apache”) culture includes the Sunrise Ceremony, a fourday communal celebration that marks the first menstruation of an N’dee girl as she enters puberty. I was interested in the contradiction between this empowering heritage and the disempowering “expectation” described by Sarah Deer. How would a young survivor of sexual abuse relate to the ceremony, when the arrival of the menses translates to increased vulnerability via potential pregnancy and changes in the body that invite sexual objectification? Who are one’s people? Where are the limits of family? These are questions that inform survivor culture, and questions with higher stakes when an entire population has been targeted for extinction. How and when does compassion for those impacted by intergenerational trauma translate to enabling of the cycles? Finally, in Little Sister, I wanted to explore the tensions between a partner whose focus is on external enforcement and a partner who is preoccupied with the challenging of internal paradigms.


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