#MeToo What happens when Native women come forward with harassment complaints
This is Sarah Manning's story about a sexual harassment complaint. She called the process 'emotionally, physically and spiritually draining'
Indian Country TodayIndian Country Today: 'The #MeToo movement has skipped Indian Country' Most women who contacted Indian Country Today in order to share their stories of sexual harassment and assault were too fearful of repercussions to come forward publicly; they asked for anonymity. In the interest of shining a light on what Amanda Takes War Bonnet describes as Indian Country’s “resounding silence” towards harassment within their communities, Indian Country Today has agreed not to disclose the identities of survivors or perpetrators. One woman, however, consented to come forward publicly. Naming herself and her perpetrator, she shares the long, anguished story of sexual harassment by her boss, her decision to report his actions, the tribal school board’s checkered response and their final come to Jesus moment in which they were forced to believe her and take action. Her story offers a window into the confusing and inadequate reporting process as well as the dearth of the most basic procedural information for victims as well as the outright climate of subterfuge and denial in both tribal and federal governments. Her name is Sarah Manning. This is her story. Manning began working in 2010 as a social sciences instructor at the Tiospa Zina tribal controlled Bureau of Indian Education school on the Sisseton Wahpeton Reservation in South Dakota. She is a member of the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Nevada and Idaho. As one of only a handful of Native teachers among “TZ” school’s certified instructors, Manning taught classes in tribal government, American Indian history, sociology and psychology. Passionate about teaching from an Indigenous perspective, she advocated for greater inclusion of culture and language in classes and supported student efforts to challenge the use of Native mascots in neighboring school districts. She served on the School Improvement Team for three years, working closely with school superintendent Roger Bordeaux who was hired in 2015. Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe holds a Ph.D. and Master of Arts degree from the University of South Dakota in Education Administration and is a well-known figure in Indian education with a history of pushing for inclusion of Native language and culture in schools. He is also the director of the Commission for Oceti Sakowin Accreditation, an organization that provides Native-focused accreditation for tribal schools. Manning worked closely with Bordeaux, meeting with him weekly as part of the School Improvement Team. Together they drafted a resolution urging schools to drop the use of Native mascots for the South Dakota High School Activities Association. The association adopted the resolution in 2016. Bordeaux praised Manning’s work and asked her to collaborate with him on other projects such as calling attention to Native needs on education bills before the state legislature. “He made me feel valued and supported,” Manning said. In her early 30s, she saw Bordeaux, who is over 60, as a fatherly figure. “I thought wow, this leader sees the value in my work,” she said. “I was proud.”
In response, according to their policy regarding sexual harassment complaints, the board placed Bordeaux on suspension from February 9-23 and scheduled an evidentiary hearing to explore Manning’s allegations. At the February 23 hearing, Manning was shocked to learn that nearly half of her evidence hadn’t been shared with board members including the message in which Bordeaux asked her for a one-night stand. She wasn’t allowed to add the omitted evidence. The investigator hired by the board to examine the allegations claimed Manning hadn’t responded to requests for an interview. Manning tried to explain she hadn’t heard anything from the investigator. She later learned that the investigator had used an incorrect email address in trying to contact her and never tried to reach her via phone. “Two women board members began badgering me. One said, ‘I am offended by you. That you think the women on this board don’t take this seriously, we take this very seriously.’ Another said, ‘You are at fault because you failed to follow the correct process,’” Manning said. “The school attorney asked me if I felt comfortable going ahead with the hearing without an attorney representing me; I told him, ‘no,’ but they went ahead anyway,” Manning said. Going into executive session later that night, the board decided unanimously to dismiss her complaint due to insufficient evidence; Bordeaux was reinstated. The next day Manning received a letter from the board stating that their decision was final; the letter included a request for her signature. She declined to sign it. Manning immediately drafted an appeal in which she detailed the “lopsided hearing process,” that failed to include all the evidence and left her out of the investigation process. She sent the letter to both the school board as well as to then Sisseton Wahpeton Chairman Dave Flute. Flute urged school board members to reconsider all of the evidence. “As chairman, it came to my attention that Manning wasn’t confident that the hearing procedure was conducted in a fair manner. I’m confident that the push my office gave to the board helped them reassess their response,” he said during an interview with Indian Country Today. The school board scheduled another hearing on March 8, 2018 to discuss harassment allegations against Bordeaux. At school board chairman Tom Flute’s request, Manning resent a screenshot in which Bordeaux sexually propositioned her, asking for a one-night stand. Several women came forward during the hearing, including school employees, sharing instances in which Bordeaux had sexually harassed them. The following letter was included as evidence. The author requested anonymity from Indian Country Today. “I became aware of Roger’s sexual harassment when a group of us from school were in Vegas for a conference. My co-worker received text messages from Roger asking her to attend a show with him, she said yes, thinking he was just being nice and wanted someone to attend a show with him. Then Roger texted her, stating that he would pick her up early in a limo so they could have dinner, flowers, and he’d have champagne ready. My co-worker felt extremely uncomfortable and questioning her further, she told me that he had been sending her other text messages, which she showed me. She felt uncomfortable and didn’t know how to tell him no. Through encouragement she texted him that she had plans with her friends for the night. Throughout the next year he sent her texts of a sexual nature. Texts that asked for sex, suggesting a sexual relationship, sent random gifts to her, offering expensive trips, a picture of Candi's Adult Store in Watertown, offering to pick her up some toys etc. I learned that Roger had been doing this to other women and how persistent he was with my friend, constantly sending Facebook messages, gifts, and texts. These messages stopped after the school board started investigating.” According to Tom Flute, the board agreed unanimously that night to terminate Bordeaux’s employment for sexual harassment.
Employees at federal & tribal schools have less protection than those working at public schoolsThe process for reporting sexual harassment at the Bureau of Indian Education and the Bureau of Indian Affairs is unclear and difficult to navigate. Employees at BIE schools can file harassment complaints within the schools’ administration as well as Equal Employment Opportunity complaints with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Civil Rights. Unlike most of the nation’s public schools, however, directly funded BIE schools are not subject to Title IX. In 2017 a federal judge in Kansas found that BIE schools such as Haskell, are not subject to the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX law because the federal government has sovereign immunity. Title IX is a federal law prohibiting educational institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment of either students or employees. Despite recent sexual harassment scandals at both agencies, neither the BIA nor the BIE have made their harassment policies available to the public according to Indianz.com where journalists have reported extensively on this issue. In email responses to Indian Country Today questions about the sexual harassment reporting protocol and process for reporting employees guilty of harassment or assault or if there was any means to alert schools about these employees, Nedra Darling, director, public affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs did not provide details. The assistant secretary oversees both the BIA and the BIE. The Department of the Interior is the umbrella agency for both agencies and has also faced several scandals over high rates of harassment and poor handling of complaints.
BIA tops the list of workplace complaints at Interior; 40.20 percent of total complaintsAccording to the Department of Interior’s 2017 Workplace Environment Report, 35 percent of employees reported being victims of some form of harassment that includes the following categories, race, religious beliefs, disability status, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender and sexual assault. The BIA topped the list representing 40.20 percent of total complaints. The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians was second on the list at 38.40 percent. Overall, eight percent of Department of Interior employees complained of sexual harassment. The Office of Special Trustee for American Indians had the highest rate, 11.40 percent, within the Department followed by the National Park Service at 10.40 percent and the Bureau of Indian Affairs at 10.10 percent. According to GreenWire, only one-quarter of federal employees who claimed they were harassed reported the behavior; 38.7 percent of those who made official reports said they were encouraged to drop their complaints. Nearly 60 percent of alleged harassers and perpetrators at the Department of Interior agencies were men. According to the 2018 report by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Natural Resources, #InteriorToo, the Department of Interior harbors several known risk factors that predispose workplaces to complaints of sexual harassment such as a disproportionate number of men, power disparities between men and women and geographic isolation. Office of Inspector General released a report finding that Haskell Indian Nations University, a BIE school, mishandled sexual harassment complaints and underreported crime statistics such as rates of sexual assault, violence, stalking and harassment. According to the report, while at the college, Office of Inspector General investigators learned of allegations that a Haskell instructor sexually assaulted a student. Investigators reported the assault to police. Investigators noted that most of Haskell’s misconduct investigative files contained little information regarding the complaint process or the investigative outcome. The BIE oversees a total of 183 elementary, secondary, residential and peripheral dormitories across 23 states. 130 schools are tribally controlled; 53 schools are operated directly by the BIE which also oversees two post-secondary schools, Haskell Indian Nations University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute or SIPI. BIE employees who choose to take complaints beyond the school administration to the federal government must contact the Department of Interior’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionor or the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights Programs within 45 days of the date of the incident.
Many tribes continue to govern using versions of the rudimentary constitutions originally created by the BIA during the 1930’s. Those governing documents often have no separation between judiciaries and elected leadership and fail to guarantee protections for many of the same civil rights included in the U.S. Constitution. An advocate for Indigenous women, Sarah Deer agreed. “We have to remember that those constitutions were not created by Native peoples; they were boiler plate template versions of governing documents that the government insisted we adopt. They were created by white people without our best interests in mind.” Many tribes are actively working to update their constitutions, but change is slow, complicated and expensive. “Tribes need resources in order to invest in attorneys to craft good laws and policies and ensure that employees and human resources departments understand them,” Routzen said. Victims fear they won’t be believed especially if perpetrators are in leadership or among leaders families, according to Routzen. “Those old laws and constitutions have contributed to shaping the negative way our people and leaders respond to sexual violence and harassment. Those behaviors have become normalized,” she said. The lack of separation of powers also sends a chilling message to victims’ services organizations that are funded through tribes. “Tribal victims services organizations need to be independent agencies so that tribal leadership can’t pull funding,” Routzen said. Constitutional reform and the creation of updated laws are essential in order to guarantee justice for victims of sexual harassment and assault in Indian Country, according to Routzen and Deer. Day one: #MeToo in Indian Country; We don't talk about this enough
Recent Office of the Inspector General Reports into Misconduct at Bureau of Indian Affairs / Bureau of Indian EducationInvestigation of Misconduct and Mismanagement at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (December 2018)
Investigation of Misconduct Allegations at Haskell Indian Nations University (November 2018)
BIA Official Engaged in Unprofessional Behavior (September 4, 2018)
Employees Believed BIE Director’s Presence During Fiscal Monitoring Review at Former School Was Improper (August 2018)
BIE Official Allegedly Inflated Gifted Program Enrollment and Student Attendance Numbers at Former School (August 2018)
Even More Office of the Inspector General Reports about MisconductBIA Manager Allegedly Sexually Harassed Three Subordinate Employees (February 20, 2018)
Insufficient Actions by BIA Management and Human Resource Officials in Response to Sexual Harassment Reports (October 18, 2017)
BIA Employee Visited Pornographic Websites on His Government Computer (September 20, 2017)
BIA Employee Sent Unwanted, Sexually Explicit Messages (June 5, 2017) Mary Annette Pember works as an independent journalist focusing on Indian issues and culture with a special emphasis on mental health and women’s health. Winner of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, the USC Annenberg National Health Fellowship and Dennis A. Hunt Fund for health journalism she has reported extensively on the impact of historical trauma among Indian peoples. She has contributed to ReWire.News, The Guardian, and Indian Country Today. An enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe, she is based in Cincinnati, Ohio. See more at MAPember.com. This story originally appeared on Indian Country Today on May 29, 2019.
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