Tillie Black Bear (Sicangu Lakota), Wa Wokiye Win (Woman Who Helps Everyone) gave hope and healing to generations of Native Americans and the national movement for the safety of women. Tillie inspired thousands from all walks of life to end domestic and sexual violence. We will celebrate her life with a National Day to honor her life and life’s work. In 1978, Tillie was the first Native woman to organize at the national level to educate Congress on domestic violence and the federal trust responsibility to assist Indian tribes in protecting tribal women.
“In the early years, women opened their homes to other women in need and the children that came with their mothers. In the 1970s, we did this as women helping other women, sisters helping sisters. Since that time, our movement has grown to open the eyes of this country and the world to better understand violence against women. Our role has and will continue to be to connect the violence beyond individual acts to the oppression that gives rise to the violence. As Native women this violence is linked to the colonization by the United States of our nations, lands, and peoples. As women of the movement we play many roles. One is to understand and reform those laws, policies, lack of resources, and so much more that continues to separate us as Native women. Another is to restore the sovereignty and protections that are original to our Indian tribes. Looking back over three decades, having spent most of my life as a woman in our resistance movement, I am so proud of our women who went beyond the shelter doors. I am so proud of our movement for safety and sovereignty. As tribal women, as indigenous women, we are helping to create a safer, more humane world.—Tillie Black Bear, Sicangu Lakota, Rosebud Sioux Tribe, 1946–2014
The Tillie Black Bear Women Are Sacred Day on October 1st will kick off October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Tillie Black Bear was a founding mother of the NCADV and led in the national and tribal organizing efforts to establish DVAM. The intent was to connect the advocates across the nations who were working to end violence against women and children. The Day of Unity soon became an entire week devoted to a range of activities conducted at the local, tribal, state, and national levels. The activities and themes varied from location to location but included the common themes of mourning lives lost, celebrating survivors, and connecting those working to end the violence—themes that continue to shape current DVAM activities. The first DVAM month was observed in October 1987, and in 1989, Congress designated October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Tillie stressed the importance of utilizing tribal cultures and traditions to address violence in our communities. As relatives, respect is a foundation for our relationships and treating each other in a good way. “Even in thought, women are to be respected. We teach this to our children. We teach it to our grandchildren. We teach it to our kids so that the generations to come will know what is expected of them. Those generations to come will also know how to treat each other as relatives.”—Tillie Black Bear.
“Tillie leaves a strong legacy of tribal grassroots organizing,” said Lucy Simpson, Executive Director, NIWRC. “Tillie is a founding mother of NIWRC, and we are honored to continue her legacy of movement building.”
As we pause to honor and reflect on Tillie’s life, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) asks all advocates and activists to commit to an action to celebrate Tillie’s life and the beginning of the national battered women’s movement. Join us by declaring October 1st as the National Tillie Black Bear Women Are Sacred Day.
Follow the link below to sign on in support of the Tillie Black Bear Women Are Sacred Day.