Posted on January 20, 2016
Strong Oak Lefebvre
The dominant culture creates scarcity and promotes abuse of power. We are all taught that there is always someone who has control over you and your needs. But if we value and practice interdependence—if we do not objectify anything or anyone—we will not objectify children or commit violence. Every person has the same value and worth. If we believe this—if we help children see their value and importance to the larger community and the world—child sexual abuse cannot happen
The Challenge: Historical trauma has altered the very DNA of indigenous people. An accurate understanding of this trauma is essential to understanding the systemic oppression that is at the root of child sexual abuse. Racism and the systematic marginalization of indigenous people stem from a power-relation that first began when the European occupiers came to the Americas. Residential boarding schools were the sites of horrific rates of child sexual abuse against indigenous ancestors and elders, the trauma of which continues to be visited upon indigenous children today.
The Solution: Leverage an understanding of historical trauma to develop a means of intervention, healing and prevention of child sexual abuse in indigenous communities. Make the incidence of child sexual abuse and all forms of violence unthinkable through a cultural shift that incorporates indigenous traditions and values prior to colonization.
The Strategy: Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition (VBCIC) believes that adults and communities are responsible for the well-being of children and that all forms of abuse can be prevented by changing the structural system from one of oppression to one of shared equity and justice for all living beings. Building on years of successful violence prevention work in indigenous communities, VBCIC created the “Walking in Balance with All Our Relations” child sexual abuse prevention curriculum. Featuring twelve modules based on indigenous values and traditions, the curriculum provides historical perspective; promotes fundamental structural change as necessary for peace, justice and harmonious relationships to be the norm; and includes the healing and treatment of those who harm as a key piece of primary prevention. Presented in Talking Stick Circle, the curriculum is taught from cradle to grave, fully integrated into the very fabric of indigenous life. VBCIC will promote this curriculum and its community-based evaluation tools throughout the Northeast and, eventually, to national prominence as an effective means of eliminating child sexual abuse and all forms of violence not only in indigenous communities but in multicultural communities as well. VBCIC will translate the curriculum into indigenous languages allowing for maximum accessibility and cultural relevance.
VBCIC utilizes a social-ecological model developed by the Centers for Disease Control that uses a four-level approach to violence prevention and addresses the complexity of relationships among individuals, the community and the larger society. VBCIC educates adults and community members through a primary prevention strategy that promotes healthy relationships based on gender equity and gender neutrality, embracing a non-binary approach to sexual identity. It is our goal to recognize the signs of child sexual abuse and adopt a restorative community approach in healing and accountability for all involved—individuals, families and the community. VBCIC is seeking to decolonize indigenous people and teach indigenous traditional values in a curriculum that is expected to change how we organize and live our lives.
Irene “Strong Oak” Lefebvre is the Founder, former Board President and first Executive Director of the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition (VBCIC). She is American Indian of Maliseet and Mi’kmaq descent. Strong Oak is co-author of the “Walking in Balance with All Our Relations” teaching curriculum and gives national presentations on curriculum that is designed to decolonize indigenous peoples and reclaim historical ways of being in the community.
Strong Oak has a Master’s in Social Service Administration from Case Western Reserve University School of Social Work. She currently serves on the Advisory Council for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and is in her second term. She is the Chair of NSVRC’s Research Advisory Group and is an at-large member of its Steering Committee. Strong Oak represented the NSVRC as a voting member to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) from September 2010 to September 2014.
VBCIC was incorporated through a capacity building project under Strong Oak’s sexual assault prevention work at the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition. Strong Oak is currently a participant in the LEAP Cohort Leadership Academy for women of color at the California Coalition Against Rape. She also does grant reviews for state agencies regarding Rape Prevention Education funding.
The mission of Visioning B.E.A.R. (Balance, Equality and Respect) Circle Intertribal Coalition is to prevent domestic and sexual violence in the intertribal communities of the Northeast. In our prevention approach, Mother Earth has the same rights as a person. VBCIC includes environmental justice, economic justice and political justice as necessary areas of concern and have expanded our definition of violence to include oppression from these intersections. VBCIC currently comprises an eight member survivor-led founding Board of Directors.