Returning to Traditional Values to Safeguard Women and Children

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
Hundreds gathered in the rain for the annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's March, organized and hosted by MIWSAC. (photo by Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune)

Nicole Matthews was 19 years old when her then-partner tried to kill them both. Believing falsely that she’d been cheating, her partner drove his vehicle head-on into three other cars, then left her injured at the scene.

“I told myself (afterwards) that it was okay. I could be safe with him because … the thought that someone that I loved would cause that kind of harm to me was really unfathomable,” says Matthews, a descendant of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe tribe in Northern Minnesota.

Today, Matthews leads the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC), a statewide Tribal Coalition and National Tribal Technical Assistance Provider that aims to eliminate sexual and other violence against Indigenous women and children, in particular.

“The ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job so that my kids, my grandkids, don’t have to think about being safe on the streets or in their homes,” Matthews says.

Culturally Aware Advocacy

Utilizing a Native-focused curriculum they developed with survivors’ input, MIWSAC trains advocates and community members on topics related to sexual assault advocacy. To date, more than 1,000 people have been trained using this curriculum.

The rates of sexual assault against Native women is 2.5 times higher than it is against other women, Matthews notes, yet “many trainings, resources, and data sources have very little or no information about Native people included,” making this training all the more vital. 

MIWSAC also trains Native men on preventing sexual violence where prevention focuses on  “teaching men and boys what not to do to be harmful and create harm in our community.”

Using the Past to Change the Future

Many Indigenous community members or their relatives were sent to Christian boarding schools, where they were beaten or sexually abused and prohibited from speaking their native language, Matthews says. “Now we’re trying to heal from that,” Matthews says. “What are those traditional values that we can use for healing and justice?”

She once heard from a Native elder that if a man’s hand strikes a drum as part of a traditional drum group, then he should never use that same hand to strike a woman. That’s because the act of drumming is like a sacred prayer. This is an example of the kinds of historical Indigenous values they’re working to impart.

Jourdan Reynolds, a non-Native ally and advocate who works for the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa, attended a two-day men’s training with MIWSAC in late 2023. 

The training inspired Reynolds, a survivor of childhood abuse, to be a better husband and father, and he says he’s striving to be more fully present with his two young boys.

With a focus on supporting Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, sex trafficking, improving Black and Indigenous solidarity, and the creation of national resource centers addressing sexual violence; MIWSAC’s work is vast, centering the needs and experiences of Native survivors of sexual violence and keeping their voices at the forefront. 


Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition

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Through Unity We Will Strengthen Our Voices and build resources to create awareness and eliminate sexual violence against Indian women and children. We will vigorously apply our efforts toward influencing social change and reclaim our traditional values that honor the sovereignty of Indian women and children.

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