StrongHearts Native Helpline
Photo courtesy StrongHearts Native Helpline
‘I need them to be safe’
Young Native woman sounds alarm about safety in Indian Country
Friday, April 22, 2022
Indianz.Com

“My words as a Crow woman are sacred, for they are the prayers that I speak into existence.”
— Tena

Note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault, rape and predatory behavior.

For culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence and concerned relatives and friends, contact the StrongHearts Native Helpline at 1-844-7NATIVE or visit strongheartshelpline.org for chat advocacy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

A prominent photographer who built a sizable following online with posts featuring Native women and girls is stepping out of the spotlight after survivors came forward with accounts of their trauma.

This week, two young Native women have publicly shared the trauma they experienced with Adam Sings In The Timber. Both survivors were under the age of 20 when they encountered the photographer, whose social media platform at one point drew nearly 60,000 followers and was filled with images meant to celebrate life in Indian Country.

But one survivor who has spoken extensively with Indianz.Com said Sings In The Timber took advantage of her youth. Tena Faith Bear Don’t Walk was only 18 years old when she was first contacted online by a man more than 20 years her senior.

Despite the age gap, Bear Don’t Walk initially felt safe communicating with Sings In The Timber. With both hailing from the Crow Tribe, they began exchanging messages about common experiences, including attending the Crow Fair on their homelands. The event is one of the largest gatherings in Indian Country, attracting tens of thousands of people to a powwow, rodeo and parade on Crow territory in Montana.

Photos from the days-long event have helped bring Sings In The Timber’s work into prominence. And as a university student at the time, Bear Don’t Walk developed an interest in photography and videography and hoped to grow her own skills by learning from someone with more experience.

But Bear Don’t Walk’s goals of fostering a professional relationship were not shared by Sings In The Timber. In coming forward publicly, the young Crow woman disclosed that she was sexually assaulted and raped by someone she had looked up to, someone she had viewed as a mentor — even as an “uncle” in the cultural traditions of her tribe.

“He can never undo what he did to me,” Bear Don’t Walk said in an interview with Indianz.Com. “He can never take that back.”

“And he still can’t even admit the truth of what happened,” Bear Don’t Walk said of the incident that occurred on the reservation of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington state.

Bear Don’t Walk told Indianz.Com that she disclosed the sexual assault and rape to her health care providers immediately following the incident in November 2019. It happened at the same time as a conference hosted by the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. The organization, commonly known as NABS, had hired Sings In The Timber to serve as the official photographer for its second annual conference, titled “Honoring Native Survivance.”

“We are devastated to learn this week of a report of sexual assault involving a photographer contracted by NABS to document our 2nd Annual Boarding School Healing Conference in November 2019,” the non-profit said in a statement on Friday morning. “We condemn the reported actions by Adam Sings In The Timber.”

“We set a very high standard for anyone we work with and bring in contact with boarding school survivors and descendants,” the organization added. “We have zero tolerance for unethical behavior or impropriety by any participants in NABS events.”

National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition Statement: Adam Sings In The Timber
An April 22, 2022, statement from the Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. A copy was also posted on NABS social media accounts.

And earlier this year, after feeling safe enough to proceed, Bear Don’t Walk said she reported the sexual assault and rape to the Tulalip Tribes, whose government has emerged as a leader in efforts to protect Native women and girls from violence of all forms. Since coming forward, she told Indianz.Com that she has been interviewed twice by a tribal police detective about the incident, which occurred in a hotel at the Tulalip Resort Casino.

Sings In The Timber had stayed in a room at the gaming facility during the boarding school conference, which was held November 19-21, 2019, on the reservation, located about 35 miles north of downtown Seattle. According to NABS, he had worked as a photographer for the organization on just that one occasion.

The sexual assault and rape occurred in two distinct acts at the hotel room, Bear Don’t Walk recounted this week, noting that Sings In The Timber provided her with alcohol he purchased at a Tulalip tribal business and through room service at the casino. A total of three bottles of alcohol were purchased, she said.

By this time, Bear Don’t Walk was 19 years old — still under the legal drinking age of 21 in Washington. According to the Strong Hearts Native Helpline, a Native-led support organization, being provided with alcohol is a sign of sexual coercion, in that it deprives a survivor of the ability to engage in informed consent. The rape, she pointed out, happened after she had fallen asleep and was unconscious in Sings In The Timber’s hotel room, again depriving her of the ability to consent.

As part of her journey in the tribal justice system, Bear Don’t Walk said she has received services from the Legacy of Healing, a program established at Tulalip to help survivors address sexual assault, abuse and other crimes of violence. Through this level of support, she has been able to receive additional resources from a victims of crime compensation fund in the state of Washington.

And by speaking out publicly, she said she hopes to ensure that spaces in Indian Country are safe for some of the most vulnerable in tribal and urban communities.

“When I think of the young girls, boys and Two-Spirits who will grow up after me, I want them to be safe,” Bear Don’t Walk said as she shared her story on her social media platform on Tuesday. “I need them to be safe.”

Powwows.Com
A screenshot of a social media post from powwows.com.

In an email to Indianz.Com, Sings In The Timber did not comment directly about the sexual assault that has been reported to the Tulalip Tribes and to NABS. Instead he offered what he described as the “facts” of a situation that has been widely discussed and disseminated online in the last few days.

“I have never been investigated or charged with a crime, in any state,” Sings In The Timber wrote in the email on Thursday afternoon. “I have no criminal record whatsoever.”

The message was sent from an email account that had been listed on Sings In The Timber’s official photography website, singsinthetimber.com. Indianz.Com sent this first request for comment to the account on Tuesday afternoon.

After failing to receive an immediate response, Indianz.Com sent another request for comment on Thursday morning. This second email was sent to an account at the University of California, Berkeley, where Sings In The Timber is listed in the campus directory as an employee of the Rausser College of Natural Resources. His photography work has appeared in numerous articles published by UC Berkeley, including those featuring Native students as well as the activities of the Native student program on campus.

Just a couple of hours after the inquiry was sent to the berkeley.edu account, Sings In The Timber returned to social media with a post that he labeled as his “last and only public statement.” The post was his first since his once-busy account on Instagram went silent earlier this year.

“After much reflection I have made the decision to return to my homelands to seek guidance, counseling, and help from my family, friends, and clan relatives,” Sings In The Timber wrote in the post on April 21.

Sings In The Timber, however, did not outright say in the post whether he will be resigning his job at Berkeley. He did not respond to a third, subsequent request to elaborate about his employment status and his plans to return to his “homelands.”

Adam Sings In The Timber
A screenshot of a statement on the @singsinthetimber social media account as it appeared shortly after being posted on April 21, 2022. The post has since been edited to include the following caption: “I also want to apologize to all the people I’ve let down and hurt. I don’t know how to or if I can make amends, but I will try.” The account does not allow comments on the post.

Sings In The Timber also did respond to a request to explain why a prior post went missing from his Instagram account. In February, he denied being a “rapist or predator” after a group of Native youth in Chicago, Illinois, where he previously resided, accused him of victimizing “young Native girls and women” — including those interested in photography, as Bear Don’t Walk had been.

The Chi-Nations Youth Council further accused Sings In The Timber of victimizing young Native women who took part in his photography projects as models. A second survivor who was 18 years old when she participated in one of the photo shoots — which was turned into an exhibit titled “Indigenizing Colonized Spaces” that was hosted at museums, galleries and public spaces across the United States — has has since spoken out about her trauma.

After meeting Sings In The Timber on just one occasion for the photo shoot in 2020, she described receiving numerous messages and phone calls of a sexual nature from him. Despite repeatedly rejecting the advances, the unwanted communications continued for two years — only ending earlier this year, she said.

“I now realize that he was trying to groom me, and it makes me sick,” the young Native woman wrote on her social media platform on Thursday. She said the calls and messages stopped around February, around the same time the youth in Chicago went public with their statement.

While Sings In The Timber has remained silent about the accounts of the survivors, he shared details about his personal life in his “last and only public statement.” He said he was ending an intimate relationship with someone he had been involved in the past couple of years — around the same time as the incidents disclosed by the two young Native women.

“My partner and I have also made the difficult decision to separate. Please respect her privacy in this difficult time,” wrote Sings In The Timber, whose birth surname is “Singer,” according to public records and longtime associates who confirmed the name to Indianz.Com.

Liz Hoover Elizabeth Hoover
A screenshot of a statement on the @lizhoover social media account as it appeared about 22 hours after being posted on April 21, 2022. The account was initially set to private after being reactivated. It became public sometime later in the evening on April 21. The account does not allow comments on the post.

The former partner was not named in the statement. But hours later, another employee at the University of California, Berkeley, reactivated a social media account that had been dormant and said she was the person involved with Sings In The Timber.

“The person who has been my partner has behaved in deeply hurtful and inappropriate ways, which I am only learning the full scope of this week,” Elizabeth Hoover, an associate professor at Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, wrote in the post on Thursday afternoon.

“I want to make it very clear that I was completely unaware of Adam’s harmful interactions with the two women who have come forward, until everything came out on this very public forum,” Hoover added in the only explicit reference she and her former partner made about the survivors.

Hoover is more commonly known as “Liz” from her work on food sovereignty in Indian Country. Her biography on berkeley.edu lists numerous publications about environmental, subsistence and natural resource issues in tribal communities across the nation.

A November 2021 story published in Berkeley News, the university’s media arm, described Hoover as a “relatively new Native American faculty member” and said she was one of “one of 11 self-identified Native American/Alaska Native ladder-rank faculty members at Berkeley.” The post featured a photo of Hoover credited to “Adam Sings In The Timber” but did not otherwise disclose the photographer’s association with the institution or the relationship between the two individuals.

With the story, Hoover centered herself as a “cluster” hire meant to diversify the ranks of faculty at an institution of higher learning. However, no affiliation with a tribal nation in the United States, or with a First Nations community in Canada, was provided.

But in a dissertation she submitted in 2010 for her doctorate degree at Brown University, Hoover described herself as being Mohawk on her mother’s side of the family and Mi’kmaq on her father’s. She claimed “descent” from Kahnawake Mohawk in the province of Quebec in Canada as well as descent from an unnamed Mi’kmaq community that she also said was located in Quebec.

A year prior, in a 2009 news account about her time as a visiting scholar at Elizabethtown College, Hoover was reported to have been born and raised in the state of New York. She told the publication that her Mi’kmaq name is Gomdineoeoeu Osaog, which she translated as meaning “Mountain Flower.”

Hoover had used the Mi’kmaq name as early as 1996, when her comments as a 17-year-old student in Knox, New York, were published in a number of newspapers. No other direct references to Gomdineoeoeu Osaog can be immediately found in online literature, although the closest comparisons come from the words used for “mountain” and “flower” in the language spoken at the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Quebec.

Elizabeth Hoover
A passage from a doctoral dissertation in which Elizabeth Hoover claims to be of Native “descent.” Source: Local Food Production and Community Illness Narratives: Responses to Environmental Contamination and Health Studies in the Mohawk Community of Akwesasne, by Elizabeth Hoover, May 2010

Hoover’s supposed Native affiliations have been the subject of debate in Indian Country. In their statement on February 12, the Chi-Nations Youth Council accused Hoover of “taking resources from Native people for years and lying about her ancestry.” She did not address the claim on her Instagram account, whose last existing post is dated February 26.

But Hoover may have had a reason to remain silent, according to Instagram messages seen by Indianz.Com. In the exchanges, multiple Native women appear to have been contacted by Hoover after the Native youth spoke out the couple in early February. The messages seen by Indianz.Com appear to downplay the allegations of sexual misconduct by Sings In The Timber.

The behind-the-scenes activity culminated with Sings In The Timber creating a public post on Instagram on February 17 that was illustrated with nothing other than a blank image. In the caption, he said he traced the accusations against him to an “individual, who is an adult” and further said the person “is not a student of mine of any of my affiliations.”

Adam Sings In The Timber
A February 17, 2022, post on @singsinthetimber on Instagram was illustrated with a blank image rather than the colorful photos of Native people that have been prevalent on the account.
Adam Sings In The Timber
A screenshot of a caption on an February 17, 2022, post on @singsinthetimber on Instagram. The post has since been deleted from the account.

In the post, which has since been deleted, Sings In The Timber did not disclose any of his affiliations, which would have included the University of California, Berkeley, where Hoover has been employed as well. He did not address contentions about Hoover’s supposed Native affiliations either.

“I hope and pray for the sake of my family that you trust that I am not a rapist or predator,” the caption continued. With a broken heart emoji placed at the end, he added: “I hope to return soon with some good things to share.”

Sings In The Timber also wrote that “We are working with a mediator to find clarity and understanding,” implying that multiple individuals were involved in an effort to reach out to survivors. He did not disclose the identity of the “mediator” and did not respond to a request from Indianz.Com to elaborate on these discussions.

But multiple online messages seen by Indianz.Com indicate the “mediator” also downplayed allegations of sexual misconduct by Sings In The Timber. Bear Dont Walk confirmed she was contacted by this person, whom she declined to identify out of fear of retaliation.

Referring to Sings In The Timber, Hoover and this third individual, Bear Don’t Walk told Indianz.Com that “he, his partner and the ‘mediator’ slandered me and tried to intimidate me with legal threats and retribution.”

“They weaponized my culture against me, making it clear that if I came forward, backlash against me would be devastating in how I came into community, and what my people would think about me,” added Bear Don’t Walk. She said some of her Crow family members were contacted without her consent, which she took as an attempt to silence her and demean her among her own people.

“I was told by the ‘mediator’ I was to never ‘publicly shame’ a person because that it is not the Crow way,” Bear Don’t Walk told Indianz.Com. “And that made me wonder if the ‘mediator’ thought grooming and sexually assaulting a young Native woman was the Crow way.”

“But I was raised by a true, good Crow man and I know it’s not. I know right from wrong,” she said in reference to her Crow father. She added that some of her Bear Don’t Walk family members are “vocally advocating and supporting” her as she continues to share her story of survival.

Through another source, Indianz.Com confirmed that the mediator is a Crow citizen who has worked with Sings In The Timber in artistic circles. Her identity is not being reported at the time due to an inability to immediately find a way to contact her, as her professional website is currently offline. Her social media account also appears to have been deactivated. Both accounts had been listed in a recent public announcement about her work in Indian Country art circles.

In addition to being supported through the Tulalip justice system, some family members and Native women online, Bear Don’t Walk is engaged in discussions with the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition on ways to ensure Native spaces are safe. The organization is led and run primarily by Native women — Chief Executive Officer Deborah Parker happens to be a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes.

And though NABS was not aware of allegations against Sings In The Timber until this week, and was not aware of the Chi-Nations Youth Council statement from February, the organization is taking swift action in order to protect survivors.

“Under our new executive leadership, we are committed to providing safe spaces that are mindful of the needs of trauma and abuse survivors,” the statement on Friday morning read. “We are actively reviewing our vetting process for all contractors present at NABS events.”

“We are immediately starting the process of removing all assets from Adam Sings In The Timber taken at our 2019 conference from NABS’s website, social media channels, and digital platforms,” the statement added. In a request for comment, Indianz.Com had pointed out a reference to the photographer on the NABS Facebook page.

“We have not worked with him since 2019—the sole instance we have contracted with him—and we will not in the future,” NABS noted.

“We unequivocally stand with survivors of sexual abuse,” NABS said after learning of the reports. “Our work is deeply linked to the legacy of sexual violence in our communities. We are committed to confronting abuse in our communities and supporting healing for survivors of sexual violence.”

On Thursday afternoon, Indianz.Com emailed a request for comment to the Rausser College of Natural Resources, inquiring about the employment status of Sings In The Timber. A response from an administrator at at UC Berkeley was received close to midnight Pacific Time, directing the inquiry to the UC Berkeley Office of Public Affairs. A request has not yet been sent to the office as of publication of this story on Friday afternoon.

Support from StrongHearts Native Helpline
StrongHearts Native Helpline, which is available for free nationwide, is a culturally-appropriate, anonymous, confidential service dedicated to serving Native American and Alaska Native survivors of domestic, dating and sexual violence and concerned relatives and friends. Knowledgeable advocates provide peer support, crisis intervention, personalized safety planning and referrals to Native-centered support services. Call or text 1-844-7NATIVE or visit strongheartshelpline.org for chat advocacy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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