Part 1 of Kind Hearted Woman, a pillar program of the Women and Girls Lead campaign, premiered last night on the PBS series Independent Lens. Viewers met Robin Poor Bear and her family through the lens of independent filmmaker David Sutherland. The candid portrait pays tribute to one family’s resilience, strength, and courage in the face of abuse and injustice. Hear from Robin in her own words about why she and her family chose to participate in a film that closely documents the struggles of domestic violence in the Native American community. Tune in to FRONTLINE tonight at 9/8c to watch Part 2 of Kind Hearted Woman (check local listings).
It is with a humble heart that I welcome you into my life. Please know that witnessing my story may trigger intense reactions in those who are still in situations of abuse and recovery. Please also know you are not alone. You are the reason I chose to participate in this film, because I made a promise to myself that if others were inspired to find help and gain a better understanding, then this film would be worth doing.
Throughout my entire life, I have struggled with the aftershock of trauma from my childhood experiences of sexual abuse. I had no idea who “Robin” was, certainly no idea who “Kind Hearted Woman” (my Native American name) was. I struggled with the question, why? Why was I abused over and over and over again?
I struggled until, one night after I had prayed and asked, why? I had a dream (vision) of someone dying in the family and everyone in the house knew what had happened to the person but would not tell. They would not say anything when the police came and questioned everyone. Then, right before they left, I finally found the strength to open my mouth and say “I KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.” When I woke up, I knew then and there that I needed to make the commitment to do the film. I needed to bear witness to my own life so that others would learn from my experience and know that there is a way out of the darkness.
Once I made that decision, I lost certain family members and had no idea of what was to come ahead for me. I never anticipated that my children would be taken and kept from me; in my culture it is not acceptable for Native American women to talk about the sexual abuse they experienced as a child. They certainly don’t go out and make a documentary film about it.
I was introduced to the filmmaker David Sutherland through my local victim service program director Linda Thompson. I was terrified that entire week before he came to the Spirit Lake Reservation because there were only two other people who knew parts of my story at the time. One was my therapist and the other was a person who called me her “sister.” David was the third person I had ever told about what had happened to me throughout my childhood.
After I met David, I kept in touch through email. I emailed him my “Standing Proud and Standing Tall” poem. He listened to me, not just as a subject of his film, but as a human being. He knows everything there is to know about me. I love and trust him that much.
As a result of working on the film and opening up my heart, I began to grow as a mother and as a woman. I sobered up, and I began to speak out. I got to reflect on Who am I? I saw my faults and weaknesses and worked through them. I found my own strength the more and more I told my story. My children also wanted to tell their story as they saw and felt the honor of speaking out to people who listened, who cared, and most importantly, who BELIEVED in them.
Everything I put in place for myself, I also put in place for my children, as they need to find their voices and know they matter as well. We have family meetings to discuss changes in our lives such as: new job, new home, school, etc. I started this to build a strong foundation for them after they were returned to my care. They have seen me growing and have begun to grow themselves. They would talk to David about whatever was going on in their lives at the time; he is a very important part of our family. He may never admit it, but he saved a woman and two children. Just by listening.
My hope is that as many Native and non-Native Americans as possible see this film about overcoming the trauma of abuse, chemical dependency, and sexual assault. By sharing my story, I want to let people know YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
- Robin Poor Bear