Photo: PONW Members at Sen. Brian Schatz’s office in Washington, D.C.,
On a visit in August 2019 to Sen. Brian Schatz’s office in Washington, D.C., (l-r) NaniFay Paglinawan, Rosemond “Loke” Keanuenue Pettigrew, Sarah Kaopuiki (Sen. Schatz's Director of External Affairs), Mililani Martin, Wanette Lee (NIWRC – Hawai'i), and Paula Julian (National Indigenous Women's Resource Center). - Photo: Courtesy

By Rosemond Keanuenue Pettigrew

In 1989, the month of October was declared National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. It’s a reminder that domestic violence continues to affect many in our community. And it is a good time to acknowledge the strength of the many survivors and remember the victims whose voices were silenced by the violence perpetrated against them.

It is also an opportunity to acknowledge the tireless work that advocates across the state and nation are doing by taking a stand to end domestic violence – also called intimate partner violence (IPV) – in their communities.

IPV is not just physical violence. IPV includes sexual or emotional abuse, sexual coercion, or stalking by a current or former intimate partner.

Unfortunately, Indigenous women and girls experience IPV and sexual assault at higher rates than do non-native women. The social disparities and racial injustice we experience as Native Hawaiians results in higher rates of violence against Kānaka women and girls. This includes domestic or dating sexual violence, stalking, abductions, homicides and sex trafficking.

According to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ 2018 report on women’s health Haumea: Transforming the Health of Native Hawaiian Women and Empowering Wāhine Well-Being, “…Native Hawaiian women appear to experience IPV early in their lives, as 20.6% of Native Hawaiian women ages 18 to 29 years old report experiencing IPV, compared with 13.3% of non-Hawaiian women of the same age range. Here, we can start to understand the connection between IPV in high school girls grades 9-12, and rates among young adults aged 18-29. The most disparate rates of IPV are experienced 50% higher by wahine aged 45-59 years old than non-Hawaiian women (12.60% vs. 21.00%).”

U.S. Department of Justice data shows that Indigenous women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average, with homocide being one of the leading causes of death for young Indigenous women.

To call attention to this crisis, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) movement was formed, and has gained traction in both Canada and the United States at the federal level over the past decade.

A few years ago, a hui of Kānaka domestic violence advocates and survivors formed a grassroots organization. We call ourselves Pouhana O Nā Wāhine (PONW) which means “Pillars of Women.”

PONW was created with the assistance of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) and our goal is to address domestic violence and related injustices through restoration of our Indigenous way of life that is rooted in our cultural beliefs, practices, and teachings.

Our mission is multi-faceted. We are partnering at the community, state, and national levels to develop policies, solutions, and cultural resources to prevent domestic violence.

We hope our work will help amplify the voices of IPV survivors and their families.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence call the Domestic Violence Action Center at 808-534-0040 or call their HelpLine at 808-531-3771, or text HELP 605-956-5680 (24/7).

Rosemond “Loke” Keanuenue Pettigrew lives on the east end of Molokaʻi. She is a co-founder of Pouhana o Nā Wāhine.