When Meg Stone, Executive Director of IMPACT Boston, called for volunteers to take a mock IMPACT class taught by instructors from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. IMPACT Boston, a Triangle, Inc. program, is an abuse prevention and safety training organization that gives people the skills to respond appropriately to threatening situations. IMPACT offers self-defense classes and customized workshops that touch on abuse prevention, assertive communication, and conflict de-escalation to a wide variety of communities.
Inspired by taking IMPACT classes across North Dakota, two Chippewa women, Shanda Poitras and Sara Davis, met Meg Stone at a conference and saw the value in bringing the information back to the Turtle Mountain Reservation, where both had grown up. The unfortunate reality is that empowerment self-defense training is greatly needed on the Turtle Mountain Reservation. Native women on some reservations are ten times more likely to go missing or be murdered than the national average, and 56% of Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. These exponentially high numbers underline the dire need for programs such as IMPACT, which addresses a wide range of potentially dangerous situations – ranging from racist hate speech to intimate partner sexual assault and street harassment.
Women and men from the Turtle Mountain Reservation traveled to Boston in December and January for their week-long training, where they learned how to teach the 3-hour workshop. The instructors returned for further training this June, where they held the mock classes that were open to Triangle employees and any outside participants. The class that I took, led by Sara Davis and suited instructor James Decoteau, included valuable tools for verbally responding to harassment and threats in addition to learning how to physically react in situations of danger. The instructors demonstrated different scenarios that are highly relevant to the population they’ll be teaching on the reservation, but also universal for women across the country. They led us through step-by-step how to use verbal cues to deter a dangerous situation, then how to incapacitate a perpetrator if the scenario escalates to physical violence. We practiced the steps repeatedly and the class culminated with reacting to a lifelike situation with the suited instructor. The instructors were full of encouragement and support, but still ensured that everyone left the class knowing how to use the skills in daily life. I found that, despite the rush of adrenaline I felt during the practice scenarios, I could successfully use the tactics that they had taught me without freezing.
After just 3 hours, I felt like I had learned life-long skills that made me feel empowered and confident in my safety. I can tell that the instructors from the Turtle Mountain Reservation are going to make a huge difference in the lives of the women they are teaching!
You can read an interview with Shanda Poitras, one of the women instrumental in bringing IMPACT training to the Turtle Mountain Reservation, in an IMPACT blog post here.