Responding to Sex Trafficking in Indian Country

  • March 25, 2020, 1:50 p.m.

Eli Goodsoldier

On January 28-30, 2020 the Strengthening Sovereign Responses to Sex Trafficking in Indian Country and Alaska Conference, a collaborative effort by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, the Office on Violence Against Women, the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and Mending the Sacred Hoop happened in Tucson, Arizona. Below are resources on the issue that are freely available along with some reflections on the conference from one of our TYRC staff members.


There are many great organizations and advocates doing the work to combat sex trafficking and exploitation in Native communities. You can learn more here and can request training and TA from the Tribal Youth Resource Center to incorporate these resources into your youth programs and services:


Reflections on the Conference


Walking into the conference, I felt I had a good knowledge base of this problem we are facing in our Indian communities, both urban and reservation. However, I was blown away by the magnitude of the issue and felt hopeful at the end of the convening, that our tribal organizations and communities were doing all they can to combat it. I and two other colleagues were lucky to sit in on a pre-conference workshop on the newly released “Sex Trafficking in Indian Country: Advocacy Curriculum” developed by the Tribal Law and Policy Institute. (You can find the curriculum, here.) This curriculum is designed to provide tribal coalitions and advocates information on identifying sex trafficking of Native people, understanding the impact of this crime, screening for sex trafficking, and advocacy roles and responsibilities.

I was excited to see a workshop on how we can better provide services to our LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit relatives, who have been affected by sex trafficking. This was provided by Kurt Begaye (Dine’) of the Southwest Indigenous Women’s Coalition, who also turned out to be a relative of mine through our Dine’ clan system. There is a pervasive narrative that trafficking only affects females but the reality is that a vast majority of victims are our LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit relatives. Facing homophobia and transphobia, many have been kicked out of their homes, dropped out of school, suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and must do what they need to do to survive. I have heard many of our relatives talk about how “survival sex” is not a choice, but literally is survival. As we were discussing what resources were needed to adequately address and respond to sex trafficking of Native LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit relatives, I was happy to see that many of us came to the consensus that providing a safe space and connection to traditional and cultural healing practices, were at the top of the list.

One of the most impactful workshops, I attended was “Walk the Life of Sex Trafficking” provided by Valaura and Brandon Nahsonhoya (Hopi). This interactive workshop gave participants the identity of a 16-year old Native girl (whom Valaura and Brandon helped rescue from trafficking), facing sexual abuse in her home and had to choose between living with that abuse or being sex trafficked. With limited resources, we were facing homelessness and navigating the complexities of sex trafficking life. I left the workshop angry, saddened, and also with an insight on understanding that the way we provide services to victims of trafficking must be different than how we provide services to sexual assault survivors. The presenters also discussed the increase in trafficking activity and exploitation in and around tribally operated casinos and hotels. Valaura has been providing training for some Arizona’s tribal casinos.

I encourage our tribal grantees to seek out these knowledgeable advocates and resources so that you all can begin or further these discussions in your tribal communities. We might not think trafficking is happening in our own backyards, and with the increasing numbers of missing and murdered relatives, we need to stay vigilant and have these conversations within our families and communities. I know that personally, while I want to continue to support the economic development and vitality of our tribal casinos and resorts, I know to be a bit more cautious and will advocate to my tribal council representative and tribal gaming offices for more sex trafficking training. And, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the Advocacy Curriculum training, because now, I have the tools to identify when sex trafficking may be occurring.


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