'From victims to survivors': Annual Take Back the Night event hosted at Bemidji State
Planned in partnership with Support Within Reach, the event brought together several facets of the community with a unified goal to stand alongside victims and amplify their voices.
BEMIDJI — Themes of resilience, perseverance and courage permeated Bemidji State’s American Indian Resource Center on Thursday as students and community members alike gathered to recognize sexual and domestic violence survivors during an annual Take Back the Night event.
Planned in partnership with Support Within Reach, a sexual violence resource center, the event brought together several facets of the community with a unified goal to stand alongside victims and amplify their voices.
In the AIRC reception area, whiteboards encouraged attendees to share what they would say to someone who has experienced sexual violence.
Another whiteboard asked, “How did you heal?” One attendee wrote, “I gave myself peace by not asking what I could have done different.”
Booths from local organizations lined the perimeter of the AIRC gathering room providing resources for those who needed them. Attendees enjoyed a meal and conversation prior to the start of the event, which was kicked off by a drum circle.
BSU’s Student Senate President Caleb Travis read the university’s land acknowledgment statement before Bemidji Mayor Jorge Prince formally declared Thursday as Take Back the Night and April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which he initially shared during an April 3 city council meeting.
“It’s a pleasure to be here tonight and stand with all those who have experienced sexual violence in its many, many forms,” Prince said, “and to come alongside the community as their voices are heard.”
In his declaration, Prince shared that an estimated one in three women and one in six men in Minnesota will experience sexual violence in their lifetime.
Prince added that American Indians are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes compared to all other races and one in three Native women report having been raped during her lifetime.
As the featured speaker of Take Back the Night, Leech Lake Band member Arnold Dahl-Wooley presented to the crowd the history and current issues facing two-spirit people, or those who are LGBTQ within the Native American community.
Dahl-Wooley shared that nearly 40% of homeless youth are part of the LGBTQ community compared to 7% of the general population. He added that LGBTQ people are nearly four times more likely to be victims of violent crime compared to non-LGBTQ.
Dahl-Wooley also emphasized that two-spirit people have been documented throughout much of human history, stating, “archeological evidence indicates that two-spirit was ancient and widespread, dating back tens of thousands of years.”
BSU’s Lifestyle Educators, a peer-to-peer volunteer group that provides health information to students, was one of several groups that had a presence at Take Back the Night to take in Dahl-Wooley’s speech.
“Every year, there has been a speaker who’s been willing to step out and speak to whatever their group is bringing to the table,” Lifestyle Educator Peyton Barber said. “Two-spirit was chosen because we knew the incoming (BSU) class had an influx of Indigenous students coming in and we want them to know there are resources for them.”
Soon after Dahl-Wooley’s speech concluded, attendees filed outside for a candlelight vigil, an opportunity to speak about their experiences and offer healing words.
“Don’t let your voice be silenced,” guest speaker Marilyn Westbrook said. “They say ‘silence is golden.’ It is not. Use your voice in any way you can because your voice helps other people.”
“Sexual violence is a traumatizing experience that impacts everyone involved,” Support Within Reach advocate Sky Halbert said. “However, when we’re able to get together like this, support each other and be there for each other, we can make the healing process a little bit easier and can help with the transition from victims to survivors.”
Support Within Reach can be reached at (800) 708-2727 for anyone seeking help around sexual violence.