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Vigil held for victims of sexual and domestic violence

BEMIDJI - Moments of silence are rarely such.

What they offer is a time for reflection, but the noise of the world never allows for complete quiet. On Saturday, one such moment was held for victims of sexual and domestic violence, rape, hate crimes and child abuse. It was broken up by traffic passing on nearby Paul Bunyan Drive, bells ringing to memorialize victims, a flagpole flapping and the crunching of snow under 6-year-old Eli Hartwell’s boots.

Cristine Davidson, with the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, spoke to a group of about 20 people - mostly women - under the shadow of Paul and Babe.

“What we want perpetrators to understand is what they’re doing to our community,” she said. “It’s a calling each other to action. We have to say we’re not going to tolerate this in our community anymore.”

Davidson was joined by Deb Miller, coordinator of the newly formed Beltrami County Domestic Violence Court, members of the Sexual Assault Program of Beltrami, Cass and Hubbard Counties and Mayor Rita Albrecht. After speaking, Davidson, Miller and Albrecht became members of the crowd.

“We’re all in this together,” Davidson said.

T-shirts flapped in the breeze. They bore the names and some faces of victims of violence, many of whom have passed on. White paper bags were handed out to those who gathered at the waterfront. Some had pictures of victims; others had names. Rachel, Emily, Casey, Patty. A few were more vague in their memorialization. One read “For my best friends.” Another, “Mom.”

A member of the White Earth Nation, Davidson sees firsthand the devastating effects of violence against women in her community.

“Natives are victimized at extraordinarily high rates,” she said. “The stats say one in three (Native women will be raped in their lifetime). And to be honest, I don’t know of any Native women who haven’t been sexually assaulted or been a victim of domestic violence.”

She sees hope, though, in the formation of Miller’s court. Earlier this week, Beltrami District Judges Shari Schlucter, John Melbye and Paul Benshoof underwent training as part of their preparation for the specialized court - scheduled to open in October.

“That’s a very big part of it because it creates a framework and a strong foundation to keep building things onto,” Davidson said of the court. “That’s really good for the people.”

One of the first to light a candle Saturday was Deb Warren. She remembered a friend who was killed by her own son, battling a drug addiction.

“When the police arrived he was cradling his mother in his arms on the kitchen floor,” she recalled.

Warren lit the candle and two brass bells rang to signify the start of the makeshift memorial. She walked a few feet south, kneeled and placed the bag on the ground, silently remembering. Then, another bag and another name. One after the other for the next 20 minutes.

“This work is really important to me, but it’s got to be a community thing,” Davidson said. “We can’t do it one person at a time. We have to have systems change and put policies in place, and get a larger scale involvement of everyday people just to not tolerate the violence.”

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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