The Muscogee (Creek) Nation legislative and judicial building in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Photo: Rdlogan05
National

One Native Woman's Struggle: 'We've had colonizers beat us up for centuries'




Muscogee Nation lawmaker ostracized after speaking out

Dode Barnett accuses colleague Lucian Tiger of harassment
By Kevin Abourezk
@Kevin_Abourezk

Dode Barnett stood before a door leading to the tribal council’s offices, talking to a colleague when it happened.

She didn’t realize someone had walked up behind her when she felt and heard a sharp slap on her butt. A fellow council representative had slapped her bottom and let out a whoop.

The representative, Lucian Tiger, now serving as Speaker of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council, just kept walking.

Barnett was stunned.

“I was embarrassed,” she said. “I thought you know, ‘How unprofessional. Why did he think he could do that to me?’”

She had considered Tiger a friend, someone she would have dinner with occasionally.

“I didn’t know what to do. I kind of froze.”

After she had some time to think about it, she confronted Tiger, telling him he didn’t have permission to touch her. Tiger, she said, laughed at her and walked away.

She ended up telling another council representative, who urged her to report the incident to her tribe’s Council Internal Affairs Committee. She considered his advice, but then she thought about how such a disclosure might affect her family, her children.

Then she decided she didn’t trust the Internal Affairs Committee to properly investigate the incident, which she said happened in late summer or early fall of 2015.

“I decided to handle it personally and not say anything about it externally, and that was as mistake,” she said. “Now I understand why employers have mandatory reporting. Now I understand why these things can’t be tolerated.”

An investigation, even one that didn’t lead to punishment against Tiger, at least might have generated a dialogue about sexual harassment within her tribe, she said.

“If I’m in a supposed position of leadership and I was afraid that my own peers would not take me seriously, then I know no one else trusts us to handle their investigations,” she said.

Indianz.Com reached out to Tiger, who was elected speaker of the tribe's legislative body in January 2016, for comment but received no response.

Since Barnett’s disclosure of the 2015 incident, first reported by Mvskoke Media earlier this month, there has been no official response to her claims, though she has received compliments from some who thanked her for speaking up. One man even apologized to her for how she had been treated, though he had nothing to do with the incident, she said.

But within her tribe’s government and among her peers, Barnett has been ostracized, she said.

“Once you speak out about it, everyone circles the wagons,” the 46-year-old said, explaining her use of the stereotypical phrase “circle the wagons” as apt in this context because – like behavior that condones sexual harassment – it reflects values inherited by America’s colonizers.

“We’ve had colonizers beat us up for centuries,” she said. “We don’t even need them anymore because we’re doing a bang up job doing it to ourselves.”

Barnett said she decided to speak up in order to try to create a dialogue about sexual harassment within her tribe, an issue that she said deeply affects her people.

She said her tribe’s human resources department hasn’t received harassment claims in 18 months, a fact she attributes to an unwillingness among victims to come forward.

“We have betrayed our people’s trust so much they don’t even come to us anymore,” she said.

Dode Barnett and Lucian Tiger. Photos: Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council

She said she her tribe needs to strengthen its laws and policies regarding sexual harassment. Currently, those laws and policies place the onus of enforcing them on department managers, though the tribe doesn’t train managers on how to address sexual harassment claims, Barnett said.

As a result, the tribe’s department managers often fail to address complaints of sexual harassment, leaving employees with little recourse, Barnett said.

She said the tribe’s administration sent out a memo after her disclosure saying it doesn’t tolerate harassment. However, without training or strengthened laws and policies, she said she doesn’t expect much to change.

“Nobody is willing to step out of their comfort zone and address these issues,” she said.

Barnett joined the Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council in July 2012, after winning a special election. She was re-elected to the seat in 2013 and will finish her 4-year term this year.

She said she has decided to run for re-election next year, a decision she says was partly motivated by the lack of positive response to her claims.

“It’s not the main reason, but it is one of many reasons why I didn’t run again,” she said.

She said she still regrets not speaking up publicly soon after she was harassed.

“I should have said something when it happened,” she said. “Until you’re in the environment, you don’t understand.”

“I knew that I just couldn’t report it.”

Also Today:
Native women are stepping up as sexual harassment remains in the spotlight (December 22, 2017)