I consider myself a strong Indigenous woman, a Mvskoke woman who has the blood of my ancestors flowing through my veins to guide me, give me strength, and stand for our people. I believe many people who know me would describe me this way as well.
However, many may not know and are generally shocked when I tell them that I am a survivor of domestic violence. I spent a decade dealing with the abuse from my children’s father. It took ten years of my young adult life to learn how to “just leave.” Being stuck in an abusive relationship for so long and not knowing how to leave is surprising to people who know me and my personality of taking action and being candid in my opinions. I have kept my story to myself to protect those closest to me; however, I now feel that sharing my experience may help others find their way on their journey and maybe even faster and better than I did. That would make me happy.
In my journey, I learned how to become my own advocate, learning to navigate the system and navigate my life and the life of my children; to keep us safe and keep us involved in the process. Trying to maintain my cultural identity in a community that was not sensitive to domestic violence issues, particularly those of Native women and children, was challenging, but I did it. If I were living on the reservation, This would be a “Tribal problem,” but you see, I did not live on my reservation. I lived on state land, in Oklahoma’s ‘good ol’ boy system.’ In the 1990s, women’s issues did not receive as much attention as they do today, and it seemed as though the system did not care much for helping.
It took me 15 years to finally realize I was dealing with compacted trauma, or what some might call multiple layers of trauma. I dove headfirst into a job in which I felt our Creator sent me to as a Tribal domestic violence secretary. This job was the beginning of my healing journey, and this is my healing story.
As Native Americans, we are storytellers by nature. When we tell our story, it is a part of the healing process. However, whether you decide to tell your story or not, I feel that you are strong. It has taken me almost 20 years to tell my story and to feel comfortable doing so. Holding back was my way of protecting my children.
When people first meet me, they see the strength in my personality, which is very evident in my demeanor. Although folks are definitely taken aback when I mention my background as a survivor of domestic violence, more people are surprised by the titles that I have held and the career path that I have taken.
You do not normally expect someone who has been an advocate, a law enforcement officer, a federal victim service provider, as someone who fell victim to abuse. It does not seem to fit the narrative that many people have envisioned in their minds as a “victim of abuse.”
I have spent almost 20 years in advocacy and victims’ rights to help change the many stereotypes of victimization within Indian Country that still exist today. This is my strength. This is where I thrive. And this is where I find my ancestors are with me on my healing journey of advocacy. I truly believe anyone who works in the field of service does not wake up and choose the work; it is Creator-driven. Generally, some type of direct experience will put us on the path to help others. One thing is certain; we must all walk our own path. Some journeys may have yellow lines and directional arrows, and some may be an utterly blacked-out path with no direction. Whichever path you are on, know that you are on this journey for a reason. The process of healing is specific to each individual. There is no right or wrong way to heal; there is only healing. If you are being destructive, that only tells me you are surviving, not thriving. There is a distinct difference between the two and one that Native women have experienced since colonization and one carried forward as a part of the compacted historical trauma I referred to earlier. Instead of focusing on that trauma, I am trying to focus on the healing, which I want to pass along to the next generation of my family. And they, to theirs. The strength and resiliency that my ancestors carried on the Trail of Tears are what I hope to tap into every day to overcome the violent victimization that they, too, carried. Not to ignore or forget it, but to keep it in its very sacred state of my journey, on a path to overall healing. All survivors have healing journeys, and I am grateful I can share mine with others when I can.
(Thank You) ◙
About Renée Bourque
Renee Bourque is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. Renee currently serves as the Program Director for the Victim Assistance to Support Tribes (VAST) Center for the National Center for Victims of Crime. Renee was recently appointed by Muscogee Nation, Principle Chief to the Mvskoke Reservation Protection Commission as a committee member for the Violence Against Native Women committee and the Co-Chair for the Law Enforcement and Public Safety Committee. Renee also serves as a subject matter expert for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. She is currently working with Operation Lady Justice Task Force and DOJ to develop a volunteer in policing program and make this available to Tribal communities.
Renee previously served as a federal Victim Specialist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Great Plains Region (District I), serving victims of violent crimes on numerous reservations across Indian Country. Renee has held previous positions as a sworn police officer in Oklahoma (tribal and state), tribal domestic violence/sexual assault advocate, and a state investigator for the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System. Renee is also a Tribal Court Legal Advocate, certified by the National Tribal Trial College and University of Wisconsin Law School.
Renee has over 19 years of experience dealing with victims of crime in Indian Country, working on several different reservations, including Oklahoma’s complex checkerboard jurisdiction. She has extensive knowledge and experience assisting victims of crime, with an emphasis on crimes against women and children in tribal, state, and Federal court settings. Renee’s experience as an advocate and law enforcement officer provides a unique perspective on systems response in addressing victim’s needs. Renee hopes to use her experience and perspective to raise awareness of the unique issues facing victims of violent crime in Indian Country.
Renee holds a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from St. Gregory’s University, Shawnee, OK, and a Master’s of Science Degree in Human Resources (Criminal Justice) from East Central University, Ada, OK. Renee has worked on projects such as the Maze of Injustice with Amnesty International. She has been one of the leading voices for Native victims in Oklahoma. Renee has held several different positions on many community and national boards and has received a letter of acknowledgment from the South Dakota United States Attorney’s Office for work conducted on Pine Ridge Reservation. One of Renee’s career highlights was to receive an honoring ceremony from the Oglala Sioux Tribal Prosecutor, Tatewin Means and Oglala Lakota Children’s Justice Center for service to victims on Pine Ridge Reservation.