July 29, 2014


On Saturday August 16, 2014, residents of South Dakota will witness stories from survivors of sexual violence stitched together on 200 bright, red quilt squares. The Monument Quilt will be on display from 12pm to 4pm at White River High School.  Larger than two basketball courts put together, the quilt is traveling the US this summer as part of an ongoing project to create public healing space for survivors of rape and abuse. During a 12-city tour, The Monument Quilt will be displayed at public parks, town squares, college campuses and high school football fields from White River, SD to Queens, NY.

Chelsey Spotted Tail, who has organized quilt-making workshop in advance of the tour, says: “This project has helped White Buffalo Calf Woman Society build stronger-than-ever relationships with relatives in our surrounding communities. White Buffalo Calf is dedicated to providing resources and services to all those who have been affected by sexual violence. The Monument Quilt Project, which encompasses our tradition, has helped heal spirits that were once broken.”

“This summer’s tour will create a national conversation about supporting survivors of rape and abuse,” says Rebecca Nagle, co-director of Force, the group behind the quilt project. “We are honored to be partnering with White Buffalo Calf Woman Society, Tokala Inajinyo Suicide Prevention Mentoring Program and the Defending Childhood Initiativeto be creating this important conversation in South Dakota. Together we will create a culture where survivors are publicly supported rather than publicly shamed.”

At the display, attendees will witness survivors’ stories, demonstrate public support, and transform their local response to rape. Participants will be able to write their own reflections, hear speeches and join in community. Survivors and allies who wish to add a square to the in-progress quilt can make one following these instructions. Squares brought on August 16 will be added to the display.

The Monument Quilt provides clear and accessible steps to support survivors of rape and abuse when, often, people don’t know where to begin. Through public recognition, the quilt reconnects survivors to their community.

Founded in 1977, White Buffalo Calf Woman Society (WBCWS) is the first women’s shelter on an Indian Reservation in the United States. Serving the Lakota people on the Rosebud, it provides advocacy and shelter to survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. In supporting survivors, WBCWS strives to follow the teachings of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, promoting peace, understanding, and quality of life for all.

According to the WBCWS website, “Violence against indigenous/Lakota women is not traditional to our culture and life way teachings. We believe it has its roots in an imposed and institutionalized system that was designed to maintain control over us as a People after genocide failed.”

With its long history, WBCWS is an important leader in the national movement to end violence against indigenous women. In the US, Native women experience assault at rates higher than any other ethnic group.  Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault than non-Native women. The high rates violence are created and perpetuated by the laws and culture of the United States.

In 1978, one year after WBCWS was founded, the United States Supreme Court declared that American Indian Nations no longer “have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.” If a non-Native person committed crimes including assault and rape on native land, the tribe had no recourse.

Last year, through the work of local and national advocates, some of these laws changed.  In 2013, Congress re-authorized the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  First enacted in 1994, VAWA is designed to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault against women and girls.  One of the hard-fought provisions in the 2013 reauthorization restored the sovereign rights of American Indian Nations to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on their lands. The 2013 VAWA provision, however, does not apply to crimes of rape and sexual assault, and does not protect Alaskan Natives.

Also partnering to host the August 16 display are Tokala Inajinyo Suicide Prevention Mentoring Programand the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Defending Childhood Initiative (DCI). A program geared toward youths, Tokala Inajinyo is translated to mean “Helping our youth stand up and prepare to be a leader, re-energizing the warrior spirit within our youth to wake up and see what is happening to our people.” The Program serves the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people, and focuses on the prevention of suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and beyond. It provides a wide range of services in the form of physical activities and exposure to various cultural and spiritual activities. The Program seeks to foster pride in heritage, self-worth, and the opportunity to recover in a safe environment.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s Defending Childhood Initiative (DCI) seeks to address issues of violence on the Rosebud. Its goals are to prevent and respond to children’s exposure to violence, reduce the negative impact of violence, and increase community awareness.

The White River display is part of a twelve-city tour set to begin this August. The Monument Quilt will visit Arden, NC; Birmingham, AL; Baton Rouge, LA; Quapaw, OK; Des Moines, IA; White River, SD; Fox Valley, WI; Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Queens, NY; Durham, NC; Baltimore, MD; and Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

The 100 x 100 foot quilt that will be witnessed this summer is only the beginning. Over the next two years, more and more stories will be added to The Monument Quilt. In a final display, The Monument Quilt will blanket over one mile of the National Mall with thousands of quilt squares to spell “NOT ALONE.”

For those interested in shaping this nation-wide community art project, there are many different ways to get involved. Survivors and allies can make their own quilt square. People across the country are invited to host quilt-making workshops in their school, community center, place of worship, or town.  You can also volunteer time or donate money to help make this vision a reality. All the different ways to engage, resources for survivors, information about upcoming events, and more can be found at themonumentquilt.org.  If you are interested in volunteering at a quilt display, email upsettingrapeculture@gmail.com.