Native American Community Board staff in Washington DC
Native American Community Board staff in Washington DC

A Native American woman in the United States will experience sexual assault at 2.5 times the rate of other racial groups. Nearly two in three Native American women will experience physical violence during their lifetimes. These troubling statistics are what drive groups such as the Native American Community Board, a Ms. Foundation for Women grantee partner, in their work to raise awareness about violence against Native American women and to advocate for greater access to reproductive health care and rights.

Founded nearly 30 years ago in South Dakota and led by Charon Asetoyer of the Comanche Nation, the Native American Community Board (NACB) provides direct services, education and advocacy for Indian country women through its Native American Women’s Health Resource Center (NAWHERC), while they also work to preserve Native American culture. Through the NAWHERC, the NACB reaches Native American women across South Dakota, as well as New Mexico and Oklahoma, nurturing leaders among tribal lands who fight for the reproductive rights of women in their communities.

One of those fights involves access to Plan B and other contraception for Native American women. Age restrictions on emergency contraception means younger women who have been sexually assaulted lack a critical health care choice, and the safety that more comprehensive reproductive health care can provide. As advocates for greater access to emergency contraceptives, the NACB has partnered with the ACLU, NARAL and other organizations advocating for reproductive justice to push the issue to the forefront with Indian Health Services (IHS), the branch of the U.S. Health and Human Services agency that manages health care on tribal lands.

Ms. Asetoyer described the challenges in working with IHS to improve health care services for Native American victims of sexual assault. The NACB’s partnership with the ACLU and NARAL helped them land a meeting with IHS this past April, where they surprised representatives, which included Dr. Susan Karol, Chief Medical Officer of Indian Health Services, with a carefully-crafted policy for dealing with sexual assault survivors.

NACB also brought a pocket card it distributes to educate Native American women on their rights to Plan B emergency reproductive health care to the meeting. The card made such an impression on the IHS’s chief medical officer, Ms. Asetoyer says, that the agency contacted NACB a week later about how to use the card for distribution.

Native American Community Board advocate Micha
Native American Community Board advocate Micha

In addition to the pocket card, the NACB created public service announcements on Plan B access, which it will distribute to Native American radio stations. Through its Emerging Leadership program, the NACB also works with over 150 women, including a group of about 60 core members, to address Native American women’s reproductive issues. The program trains women in reproductive rights advocacy while providing opportunities for them to see that advocacy in action – such as joining the NACB during the IHS meeting, and at conferences where they can meet other organizations and law enforcement that work on behalf of sexual assault survivors.

Last, the NACB is working with the Ms. Foundation’s partners at the Parsons School of Design on what Ms. Asetoyer describes as a “storybook” that will address history of sexual violence in Native America, as well as ways to improve the reproductive health care of Native American women.

“Having this storybook is a totally credible concept,” Ms. Asetoyer explains. “Storytelling is a very traditional concept that Indian people have used to pass on important information from generation to generation.”

For Ms. Asetoyer, improved access to emergency contraceptives and better reproductive health care choices is not an option, but an imperative.

“It’s not only our legal right, but our legal need,” she says.


Visit the Native American Community Board website

Hear NACB Plan B public service announcements:

PSA 1
PSA 2
PSA 3

See The NACB Plan B pocket card