Leadership must step up, make it safe to come forward about violence on Six Nations

The details surrounding the assault of Six Nations woman Autumn Martin that have come to light this week are horrifying, but important for all community residents, service providers and our allies to hear. 
On April 6, she posted what she can remember to her Instagram account.

 

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She writes, “…he begins yelling at me and gets in my face and then he shoves me so hard into the counter I lose my balance momentarily and I swing at him but miss. then he grabs me and throws me to the floor.”

“I try standing but wasn’t able, I try focusing my eyes but they were burning, filling with blood. Someone then yells, ‘get her! Sick her!’ And dogs start attacking me. I cover my head and try defending myself to enemies I cannot see. I’m on the floor still and im grabbed by my hair and dragged out of the house onto the porch, I cry. More voices yelling, “get up you crazy bitch” “get off of my property!” “I’m gonna let the dogs on you again!!” The dogs get ordered to attack me again and all I can do is cover my face. I loose consciousness and I hear the female who took me here screaming, saying to get the dogs off me but no one does. Not even her. Someone grabs me by my hair again and i’m dragged to the edge of the porch where the steps are and thrown off. My head hits the concrete slab at the bottom and I lay there, unable to move or speak. Unable to call for help. The dogs start attacking again and I try my best to protect my head.”

Autumn says that a snap decision to wear a waist trainer out that night may have saved her life. As she worked to protect her head from the dogs, she says they lunged for her torso but were unable to bite through the corsets fabric, protecting her vital organs.

The young woman is still recovering physically from infected dog bites, broken facial bones and is now facing the possibility of permanent nerve damage and blindness. The psychological wounds however, have cut deeper.

This is not the first traumatic assault she has endured. She is also the survivor of a car accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury and a sexual assault that has just seen a Six Nations man sentenced to six months in prison and 20 years on the sex offenders registry list. She already had PTSD before this attack.

Her mother, Shani Martin, says that the entire situation has left her hurt and pissed off. No one from Hamilton General Hospital contacted her though her daughter was unconscious, despite being the next of kin.

She finally got the news from strangers on Instagram saying that her daughter had been attacked by dogs, reportedly had a seizure during the attack, and was taken to the hospital. Shani says she rushed to be by her daughters side, not knowing that she had been beaten. When she arrived and saw her daughter, strapped to the bed and unconscious, and realized the extent of her injuries, she says it was then she knew there was way more to the story that people were not telling her.

Nurses asked her if she wanted to contact police. When she said yes, she was expecting an officer to attend and take a statement or photos of the injuries. Instead, she said a nurse handed her a business card with the Six Nations Police telephone number on it.

To add to the compounding strain on this family, they are still grieving the loss of three family members — the recent death of Shani’s mother and Autumn’s grandmother, the death of one of Shani’s sons in a hunting accident and another son in a tragic car accident on Highway 54.

Now, they say members of the community are coming forward to them with reports of other people from Six Nations who are also grieving along with them — saying they too were assaulted, beaten, and threatened with retaliation if they come forward to police. Accounts of some being stabbed, one account of someone being shot and too afraid to go to police. Threats that if people speak up to support victims they will have their homes shot up, burned down or their vehicles destroyed.

The accusations against Autumn on social media and hateful retaliation has already begun. Many of them too graphic to share. Some of them alleging that if she had offered up her body for sex that night that none of this would have happened. Others claiming that Autumn is faking an assault for public sympathy and to defraud people of money through the GoFundMe campaign started by her family. All of it, toxic.

The family says they have yet to hear a word of condolence or solutions from elected or hereditary leaders and have been left on their own to develop a safety plan to protect their family from retaliation for going public and going to the police.

It is, in a word, sickening. There needs to be change. Six Nations residents cannot continue to be left vulnerable because of the capacity struggles facing the Six Nations Police. Currently there are just 37 officers working to protect the 15,000 community members living on the territory. When charges are laid, all too often a missed detail or conflicting jurisdictional issue can completely decimate weeks of investigation. The community is becoming more and more unsafe every day that goes by that elected leaders aren’t putting the pressure on federal and provincial governments for investment in our police. In the meantime, Six Nations is being touted by some as a “lawless territory”, attracting criminal investment in a community suffering from intergenerational poverty and a hopeless housing situation.

Where is the money going that was earmarked for violence against indigenous women if this family has been left without help, without condolence and must now resort to raising money in a public fundraising campaign? It is a systemic failure and harming the harmed.

All of the community’s leaders — hereditary and elected — must put historical and percieved political grievances aside immediately and gather the people together to listen — not for them to speak — to listen. This is not time for personalities. This is time to prove your leadership and to hold actual space for the people on the territory who have been terrorized, who have been hurt, who have not seen justice, who are living in fear — and to listen to their stories. No politics. No jurisdictional bickering. No ultimatums. Just listening. If you are serious about protecting our women and if MMIWG is more to you than a slogan, a red dress or a special appearance on TV once in a while — prove it.

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