Earlier this month Indian Country Today, a national daily newspaper, featured an historical analysis of the sexual exploitation of Native American girls and women. The story, and the pattern, is chilling enough as it is, but the story is framed in and around Duluth, making it all the more compelling. This is an excellent piece of advocacy journalism by Mary Annette Pember.
Here’s an excerpt that puts a very human face on the problem.
Mary, Ojibwe, is a grandmotherly figure wearing a shapeless, colorful flowered dress. She meets me at the door of her little house and escorts me into her sun-drenched living room. Pleasantly cluttered with photographs, the room is not unlike those of many of my relatives. We sit down to chat, and I make a mental note that she seems an unlikely figure to tell such a powerful story of going from boat whore to survivor to activist. I feel at home here in her cozy house that overlooks the bright, clear waters of Gichigami (Lake Superior) and find it vaguely disturbing that she seems so familiar. I see that, like me, she is a sister, an Anishinaabe-ikwe and a survivor.
Mary, now 51, tells me that like her mother, she worked the boats and was trafficked into prostitution. Mary says she and her 21 siblings were all conceived through her mother’s liaisons with seamen, but her entry into “the life” was an accident. At the age of 15, she was broke and homeless, standing on the street with a girlfriend in Duluth when a Pakistani man approached them. “He was nice to us, telling us about his country. He invited us on board his boat and hailed a taxi. That was the first time I had ever ridden in a taxi,” she recalls.
Thus began her life on the boats
Sure this is difficult to read, and it’s heartbreaking, but I’m hoping that if we talk enough about the problem, admit that it is real and engage the many possible solutions that wise people are putting forward, then something will eventually change. We need to stop ignoring that this happens, blaming the victims, and/or insisting that the sex trade is a “victimless” crime.
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