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Speaker calls attention to alcoholism, abuse
Visiting speaker Robin Poor Bear introduced a PBS "Frontline" documentary that addressed the struggles she faced as a single mother while recovering from alcoholism and sexual abuse. The program was screened at the Wind River Hotel and Casino. Photo by Alejandra Silva

Speaker calls attention to alcoholism, abuse

Oct 29, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Women Restored, a local group educating women on sexual assault through a federal grant, welcomed Robin Poor Bear at the Wind River Hotel and Casino in a two-day event that began with a screening of "Kind Hearted Woman."

The documentary aired in April as part of the PBS series "Frontline" and followed Poor Bear's journey recovering from alcoholism and sexual abuse and fighting in a tribal court custody battle for her son and daughter.

She spoke of the struggles she encountered: being sexually abused when she was 3 years old, becoming an alcoholic, and later dealing with a husband who was sexually abusing her family members.

"I had to rebuild my entire life," Poor Bear said. "I had to decide that I wouldn't hang out with alcoholics anymore."

Poor Bear passed her message of healing to a room full of men, women and children who had attended the event. Students from Arapahoe Middle School shared their personal experiences with similar issues. They also emphasized that while Poor Bear's story was inspiring, they themselves were determined to follow a healthier path and strive to be better adults than others they know.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 12.5 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native high school students reported they had been forced to have sexual intercourse at some time in their lives. In 2010, 26.9 percent of adult women in the same group experienced an attempted or a completed rape at some point in their lives. Another survey determined American Indian women have the second-highest rate of rape of all races and ethnicities.

" I was angry at everybody for not protecting me as a child," Poor Bear said, describing the feeling she had as she got older. "But I decided to speak up."

The film also followed her as she returned to college to further her education and met with agencies and groups that offered her help.

"As nations we need to make sure our children have services provided to them and people believe them when they speak up," Poor Bear said. "I encourage the community to start speaking out about these issues."

Poor Bear commended all who attended and described their presence as an act of bravery and courage. She said they shouldn't hide incidents of sexual abuse and they should seek help.

"The message is invaluable, it happens everywhere on all reservations," Central Wyoming College diversity coordinator Sergio Maldonado said. "I appreciate the strength that Robin has to come out and say this is what's going on."

After seeing the film, Maldonado said he thought it was necessary to looker closer into the agencies and services that are provided on the reservation and figure out what else he could do to help in the community.

Women Restored member Reinette Tendor said it was important to bring awareness of sexual violence into the community and "to break the silence."

She acknowledged that it's hard to talk about the subject, and many may hesitate to speak up because there is fear that no one will believe them. But by not telling someone, she added, it puts a family in more danger. She also praised the men who attended the event. Poor Bear had every man in the room stand up, and she recited a poem to them that described the good men that continue to set good examples in their families.

"Do warriors still exist today? Yes, they do when they kneel and pray, understanding all is not lost," Poor Bear read.

"That's where it all goes back to, they're supposed to be our protectors," Tendor said. "And it doesn't just happen to women ... It's good to see men here."

Eventually, Poor Bear was able to gain full custody of her children. She earned a two-year degree after 10 years of schooling and has visited dozens of reservations across the United States. She has been hired by programs from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Indian Health Services to guide other women and provide support.

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