Sexual Assault Against Native American Women as Depicted in Montana 1948

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Sexual assaults comes in many forms. Sexual assault is any form of undesirable sexual contact or attention. Sexual assault can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism, exhibitionism, incest, and sexual harassment.” (WebMD) Sexual assault against Native women is becoming an epidemic. Women of the Native American culture are more likely to get assaulted then other women in the USA. In fact about 4 out of 5 Native American women have experienced the violent actions of another and 1 out of 2 of those women have been assaulted (Indian Law Resource Center). In Montana 1948, written by Larry Watson, through conflict and characterization, we learn the experiences of Marie Little Soldier and the actions of Frank Hayden. Through this we learn why the sexual assault took place and what happened to Marie Little Soldier afterward and why Native women have greatly attempted to overcome their abuse.

Majority of Native American females, who feared discrimination by both police and the courts, failed to report acts of sexual assaults. Sexual violence against Native women is due to the fact of how they were treated throughout history. Throughout history, Native women have been known to be assaulted by pilgrims and soldiers.

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The government doesn’t really allow for a good way to prosecute criminals that are non-Native that have sexually assaulted a Native woman. Tribal courts aren’t provided with many resources that allow for fair prosecution in the courts against crimes on Native American women. “Tribal law enforcement agencies are also chronically underfunded – federal and state governments provide significantly fewer resources for law enforcement on tribal land than are provided for comparable non-Native communities.” (Amnesty International USA) A consequence of being underfunded by the US Government is the victims denial of their needed justice and the crime remains unpunished. Those acts that were reported, many were treated unfairly by the criminal justice system/courts. “In fact, a recent Government Accountability Office report shows that federal courts declined to prosecute 67 percent of reservation sexual assault cases.” (Edwards) Although the Native American community has their own criminal justice system and laws, “Tribal prosecutors cannot prosecute crimes committed by non-Native perpetrators. Tribal courts are also prohibited from passing custodial sentences that are in keeping with the seriousness of the crimes of rape or other forms of sexual violence.”(Amnesty International USA). Native women have lost hope due to the fact that the criminal justice system hasn’t truly helped them before. This makes it even harder to find help towards the crimes committed against them. Also, the fact that “the maximum prison sentence tribal courts can now impose for any crimes, including rape, is three years, up from the previous maximum of one year,”(Amnesty International USA) and the maximum sentence in normal courts is 8-12 years, doesn’t help much either.

Native American women have truly attempted to overcome both the discrimination and abuse. They have to deal with that even after they have been assaulted. Their rights are violated making them lose hope of ever recovering. But there are many centers and organizations that are trying to help with these types of situations. “In failing to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence, the US is violating these women's human rights. Indigenous women's organizations and tribal authorities have brought forward concrete proposals to help stop sexual violence against Indigenous women.” (Amnesty International USA). With adequate policing and resources, more Native American tribes can actually restore security in their communities and help them move one from the violence, pain, and trauma they have endured over generations. (National Congress of American Indians). “Toward that end, the Center and its partners have raised awareness about violence against Native women in the United States within the United Nations through its Committee…” (Indian Law Resource Center).

Montana 1948, written by Larry Watson, is western fictional that takes place during the late 1940s. It follows an event that occur in the lives of the members of the Hayden Family. David Hayden recalls his life in Bedrock, Montana when he was only 12. David’s father was sheriff and his mother was a secretary. While is parents went to work, he was watched by a Native American women by the name of Marie Little Soldier. Later that summer in 1948, Marie fell ill. Frank Hayden, David’s uncle, is known as “the golden boy” in the Hayden Family. Frank was asked to examine Marie. As soon Marie hears that it will be Dr. Hayden who examines her, she immediately became distressed. So much so that she wishes to see her regular doctor, Dr. Snow. Marie wishes for Mrs. Hayden to be in the room with her. After Frank leaves, David overhears a conversation between his mother and father: Frank has been molesting women from the Native’s reservation.

Frank Hayden is the antagonist of this novel. He was the “golden boy” of the Hayden’s. He was favored by his father. Frank Hayden is a sexual predator that preys on Native American women. He sees them as inferior and finds anything that is wrong about his actions towards these women (rape and murder). After Frank came back from the war, he began to practice medicine. “However, as the novel progresses, affable Frank is revealed to be a sexual predator who is molesting his Native American female patients on the nearby reservation.” (Gale Virtual Reference Library). Due to his upbringing, he views “...Native American women as somewhat less than human, he sees nothing wrong with violating them, or in the end, even murdering them.” (Gale Virtual Reference Library). He gets a sense of entitlement from his father. They believe that because they are the Haydens that it gives them a pass to all this unjust that they have done. Grandpa Hayden, in a way, allows his “favorite” son to get away with his horrendous crime due to the amount of favoritism he shows towards him. With his father’s behavior being the way that it is, it causes Frank to develop a superiority complex especially towards the Native women. Frank Hayden’s crimes are deemed “excusable” solely due to the fact that the victims were Native American women. “The theme of prejudice against Native Americans runs throughout the novel. If Frank Hayden had been molesting white women, even Grandpa Hayden would disapprove.” (Gale Virtual Reference Library). After Wesley, Frank’s brother who is sheriff, arrests him and keeps him in the basement, Grandpa Hayden demands that Frank be released (Gale Virtual Reference Library). “Screwing an Indian. Or feeling her up or whatever. You don't lock a man up for that.” (Watson;pgs. 119-120). Grandpa Hayden and Frank both continually show that they could care less for the well-being of the Native women through both their actions and their words.

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