Forty percent of employees in Bureau of Indian Affairs report being harassed
In December 2016, a nonprofit news outlet named High Country News published an explosive investigation into sexual harassment in the National Park Service.
“I didn’t know to call it sexual assault then,” a woman referred to by the pseudonym Olivia told the outlet. At the age of 20, a fellow National Park Service employee assaulted Olivia after he gave her a ride home from work. “It took me a long time to start dealing with it, even though I worked at the park. I’d close my eyes and see him there.”
Yet while sexual harassment may be an endemic problem in the National Park Service, it’s an even greater problem in other agencies in the Department of the Interior. About 40 percent of employees in the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) report experiencing some kind of harassment, one the highest rates of all agencies in the Interior Department, according to an investigation published Tuesday, also by High Country News.
From January to March 2017, the Department of the Interior collected information about a variety of forms of harassment, including harassment based on age, race/ethnicity, religious beliefs, disability status, sexual orientation, sexual harassment, gender harassment, and sexual assault. Within the BIA, more than a quarter of employees reported experiencing “age-related harassment” and a fifth of employees reported experiencing harassment based on race or ethnicity. Sexual harassment, gender harassment, and sexual assault were disclosed at rates of 10, 13 and 1 percent, respectively. (Overall, about 40 percent of Forest Service employees reported experiencing harassment).
“The Department of Interior is committed to ending harassment and takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously,” BIA spokesperson Nedra Darling told High Country News. “Allegations of misconduct, such as sexual harassment, are investigated thoroughly.”
That’s not so, said advocates and attorneys interviewed by High Country News. “Within the BIA, there are high rates of harassment — particularly racial and sexual harassment — and poor investigation of those crimes and policy violations,” Indian Law Resource Center attorney Jana Walker told the outlet. Walker is a member of the Cherokee Nation and Delaware Tribe of Indians. “This appears to be another reflection of our federal government’s values and priorities.”
Native women experience sexualized and physical violence at especially high rates. About 55 percent of Native women have endured sexualized violence, and about the same proportion have survived physical violence by an intimate partner, according to a 2010 study conducted by the Department of Justice. Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S., according to data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2004.
BIA employees work out of 12 regional offices across Indian Country, and in rural, isolated areas authority figures may have held their positions for a long time. Moreover, the BIA is chronically underfunded by about 40 percent, according to an article posted on Native News Online. These two factors, along with a high unemployment rate and heightened fear of retaliation, all contribute to a work environment that is conducive to harassment.
The BIA has submitted a formal action plan to the Interior Department to address the issue at hand, although there is no formal release date for the report.
There’s sustained concern on the part of Native activists that the BIA isn’t doing enough to produce real reform. “The bureau has a long, complicated history with Indigenous people; it was first established under the War Department in 1824, with the explicit purpose of assimilating Native Americans into non-Native culture,” writes journalist Anna V. Smith in High Country News. “The survey’s findings raise big questions: How can the agency fulfill its stated mission — empowering tribal governments — when it is so rife with harassment?”
More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, Race/Ethnicity, Violence against women
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