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Native Sun News: PBS series tackles abuse at Spirit Lake Nation

Filed Under: National
More on: abuse, crime, native sun news, north dakota, spirit lake, television
   

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.


Robin Poor Bear, center, and her two children, Darian and Anthony, are all now involved in the fight against sexual abuse.

PBS Series exposes sexual abuse
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Staff writer

SPIRIT LAKE — There is little doubt that an upcoming PBS special, “Kind Hearted Woman” will cause controversy. For victims of sexual abuse, fear of repercussion arises when outing abuse by a family member. Victims worry they may break up their family. Should they protect the perpetrator? How does one deal with the shame of telling what happened? How can a victim ever trust again?

These questions and a multitude of others are addressed in the upcoming two-part series which follows Robin Poor Bear (identified as Robin Charboneau in the film) and her children through three years of their life. In that time, she overcomes addiction to alcohol, names her foster father and brothers who raped her repeatedly, faces corruption in the Spirit Lake Tribal Court during a custody battle, and encounters difficulties having a solid, romantic relationship.

Every challenge is compounded by raising her two children who have also been traumatized, particularly when Robin’s 13 year-old daughter reveals that she, too, has been molested by her own father.

The film pushes the viewer's boundaries and it is only when the emotional dust finally settles that Robin's real strength is revealed. It would be hard to imagine a more raw reality show, and in essence, that is what this is. The three years are never a re-enactment. Everything that happens in the film is in the moment. Fortunately, there is a happy ending as we see an empowered and renewed Robin as a survivor, no longer a victim. The co-production from Frontline and Independent Lens and acclaimed film maker David Southerland will air on PBS on April 1 and 2.

A telephone interview with Robin Poor Bear, Oglala, reveals more about the show and her own healing, which in the end, conquers every contest.

Native Sun News: After watching the show for five hours, the question pressing on my mind is how did you get so brave?

Poor Bear: I wasn’t always. It started by me speaking out, and having people hear me. Now that I look back at it all, I realize minimized the abuse.

The producer, David Sutherland, was only the third person I’d told. As a child it was ingrained in me you don't talk about abuse. When I finally sat down and told David everything, I puked it all out. I just wanted to get it all out.

When he was deciding who to pick to follow the story, I sent him a poem I had written, and from that he decided on me. After that, I went downhill for months. I wondered if I really wanted to do this. Then finally one night, before I went to sleep I prayed to Tunkasila and I had a dream where the police came and they were asking who killed this person. Before the police officer left, I said I know what happened. I woke up cold and trembling, crying harder than I ever had, because I knew the person in the dream who had died was me, and I was angry at everything that happened. That’s when I knew I had to do this.

NSN: Now that it’s over, are you glad you made the movie?

RPBC: If this helps any woman who has gone through what I have, then this is worth it.

NSN: You exposed so many things, the Spirit Lake Tribal Court, the foster parents, people you cared about. Was there ever a time you felt like it was a problem to speak out against any of them?

RPBC: I asked my therapist, do I have to protect them? And she said, ‘You don't have to protect anybody but you and your kids.’ Hearing that lifted a huge burden.

David helped me find who I was. My spirit wasn't there. I had always questioned why this happened so much to me. As a child you are told what to say, what to think, don't cry, don't think about it. And it was reinforced my whole life. I always had somebody telling me how to feel, and my marriage was like that, too.

It was really hard to start thinking for myself. But then I started to put everything in place for myself, and then I had to put that in place for my children. When I was drinking I was only concerned about what was happening to me, and I told them the same things people had told me. But when I sobered up, I was able to focus on them. I started asking them how they felt.

NSN: The film is so raw. Was any of it re-enacted?

No. A couple of times we had to rerecord sound, but that’s all. I was going through everything at the time they were making the film.

NSN: Do you have any regrets about exposing all this and bringing your children through it?

RPB: I have grown so much and my kids have, too. I don’t expect anybody to understand why I did this. My daughter, now 17, speaks out about the warning signs of abuse and my son, 14, is also starting to speak out.

My daughter has her dad’s family asking her why she would speak out against her dad. When my daughter watched the movie, after the first half hour, she was crying. I wondered what had I done, but she said to me, about the time when the court removed them from me, ‘I know you were telling me how hard it was for you, but to see it all now, from your point of view...‘

When the kids were taken away from me, their dad’s family told them I was drinking, and that I didn't care about them. But seeing the movie, she saw I was fighting for them the whole time. To hear that from them.... (Relief) I didn't expect that.

NSN: With your daughter’s abuse brought to light, does she have any regrets about this being shown on television now?

RPB: I asked my daughter if she regretted any of it and she said no. Her father is now out of jail, but he is trying to appeal his case. That made her even angrier, because he is still calling her a liar.

NSN: How was it, going back to the reservation after you exposed the problems with the court system?

RPB: It wasn't hard going back; people don't say anything to me.

NSN: Do you think the extent of the abuse that you suffered is unusual?

I think it is more common than we like to admit. One of three Native American girls will be raped by the time they are 18. The alcohol abuse, it all stems from that. I have been having visions of a long term facility for women and children, so they can stay together but focus on themselves; focus on traditional healing ceremonies, modern medicine and counseling, and include the forensic interview. It will have to be built off of the reservation so the tribe is not involved, no politics.

Architect Dennis Holloway in New Mexico has committed to helping this project happen, and someone has offered the land to build it on. I am not doing this, it is just happening! NSN: Are you amazed at how Tunkasila has taken over the project?

RPB: The way he works, I am not worthy of this! I am just a pitiful person. I am humbled by it all. I don't think it is my doing; it is coming from beyond and beyond. We need a place for our women and children to be safe.

NSN: What is the most important thing you can tell victims of abuse?

You are not alone. There is a reason I did what I did. When I decided to do the film, I lost my adopted family, but now I realize I was just a foster child to them. They would rather see me dysfunctional than how I am today. For those who are in the thick of it, who don't believe in themselves, I believe in them. I want them to know there is help for them and a better life for them out there. If I can do it, they can do it. They just need somebody to listen. David changed my life and my children’s life.

NSN: In what other ways has exposing all of this changed your life?

I spoke at a National Native Conference in Palm Springs, with over 600 people. After I went to my room, I cried. I let it all out and I turned up the television so no one would hear me cry, and I was thanking Tunkasila for giving me the strength. After I was composing myself, I heard my name on TV, and there I was on the news. (Laughing) I started crying all over again.

NSN: You mentioned in the program that you have been diagnosed with depression. Has that been eased by speaking out?

RPB: My depression has been helped. I am able to get myself out of bed and do the things I need to do. I went into intensive Dialectical Therapy, and found out how not to overreact to people. I can now control myself, and my kids noticed too. The therapy is important. Some people shut their emotions off. Just being around other survivors and other people made a huge difference, and that is where my strength comes from.

There is not enough therapy on the reservation. There isn't enough staff, and I believe if we started group therapy we could touch a lot more people at one time. There are so many benefits from it. This is what you need. People who have really suffered have 9 symptoms, like borderline personality disorder, self-destructive behavior, alcoholism, suicide. This needs to be out there, not just for the women but for the children.

NSN: Is there anything you want to say before we close?

RPB: I want to tell anybody who has ever been a part of my life, thank you.

In a later conversation Robin said that the film can trigger emotions for victims who have never dealt with their trauma. If you have been a victim of sexual abuse, contact the Great Plains Tribal Health Board for information on how and where to seek counseling. www.gpatr.org or call 855-287-7250.

(Contact Christina Rose at christinarose.sd@gmail.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News


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