After last issue’s article, which I openly admit was quite depressing, I decided that for this column, I would talk about something inspiring.
Counter to some popular thought, feminism does more than promote pissed-off matriarchs, even though much of the time when I write these I sound, well, pissed off.
When I wrote for a women’s publication at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, every issue started off with an “inspiring woman” article. Maybe this was to keep the five of us writing for the publication seem a little less femininazi. (We were a hardcore group of ladies.)
I suspect, however, that our wonderful boss, Sue Burns, after working in feminist activism her entire adult life, realized that it is easy to get bogged down in all of the depressing stuff that is the nature of political and social activism of any kind.
Since I have yet to write any columns like that for this publication, I decided now might be a good time.
There is one person who has always been—just below my spirit animal Simone de Beauvoir—the most inspirational woman to me.
Her name is Irene Bedard.
You may have never seen her, but you have certainly heard her as the voice of Disney’s Pocahontas.
Bedard also appeared in the landmark Native American film “Smoke Signals” and the popular television series “Into the West.”
As far as American Indian actors go, Bedard has had an incredibly successful career.
As a native Alaskan woman, Bedard faced all of the things growing up that many of us American Indians encounter at one point or another: poverty, domestic violence and alcoholism.
None of these issues in themselves are easy to overcome, and facing them in combination often overwhelms people who grow up in those environments, making the realization of dreams such as having a successful acting career fairly unlikely, if not impossible.
Irene Bedard is a shining example to Native Americans as well as women.
She is beacon of hope when all seems lost.
So you can imagine how saddened I was when, while putting her name into a Google search to find some basic biographical facts, the first search return was “Irene Bedard abuse.”
I spent the next several hours reading news reports and blog posts about how Bedard recently fled her home in Ohio to find safety from her abusive husband, Denni Wilson, whom Bedard reports has been physically, sexually and mentally abusing her for the past 17 years.
A letter released to the press from Bedard’s sister says that Wilson controlled the acting jobs Bedard was allowed to consider taking and that he so frequently physically abused his wife that multiple visible bruises made her basically un-hirable for many roles.
Physically and mentally shattered, Bedard reached her limit, and her health began to deteriorate to the point that her doctor tested her for cancer.
After almost 20 years of ongoing abuse, Bedard finally had the courage to flee from her husband.
She was so terrified of Wilson that she returned to her family in Alaska, taking her 7-year-old son with her.
Once in Alaska, Bedard filed domestic abuse charges against her husband while also filing for a divorce. Bedard’s husband agreed to admit his part in the domestic violence charge, which seemed like a fair deal.
For Bedard, Wilson’s admitting to abusing her and then leaving her alone for the rest of her life must have sounded like a godsend.
Although Bedard is a famous actress, her lawyer was less than satisfactory and overlooked the conditions of Wilson’s willingness to comply with the charges.
After officially accepting this compliance, Bedard was informed that the agreement had been reached only under the condition that Bedard say there was no observable evidence of the abuse.
In other words, Wilson got away with saying, “This crazy woman is accusing me of abuse, and even though there’s no evidence that I did anything, I’ll say I did it just so I can be rid of her.”
One of an abused woman’s greatest fears when reporting any kind of abuse is that she will be labeled a liar.
In a culture in which we tend to slam women for their negative experiences, this is too often the case.
Not only was she essentially labeled a liar legally due to the failure of her attorney, but, in a statement made by Native Spirit Public Relations online, her attorney’s failures also allowed for no fewer than 49 motions to be filed against Bedard by her husband in Ohio.
These charges forced Bedard to leave the security of her community in Alaska and go back to Ohio to face the court, or else be arrested for contempt.
Currently, Bedard is living in Ohio with no job, no family and no permanent home. Her husband has been granted custody of their son.
You never want to believe that these kinds of things happen.
I and the rest of the Native American community look to Bedard as a role model, a positive example which shows that dreams really do come true.
Unfortunately, Bedard has fallen into the same pattern as do many American Indian women.
The National Organization for Women reports that Native American women face the highest rate of domestic and sexual violence of any ethnic or cultural group in the United States, with their chances of being abused almost four times greater than those of white women. In addition to this, an estimated 70 percent of these cases of abuse are never documented.
Isolated on reservations or in communities and forgotten, many native women never get to the point that Bedard has reached of being able to speak out about the abuses they have suffered.
It speaks volumes to me that despite being a recognized actress, Irene Bedard has been failed by a legal system that is supposed to protect her.
As a non-white woman, she has been tragically disserviced by the law in favor of her white husband, who openly admitted to physical, mental and sexual abuse.
If I could say one thing to Bedard, or to you as you go forward knowing these struggles exist, it would be as Chief White Eagle said to his people almost a hundred years ago: “When you are in doubt, be still, and wait. When doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelop you, be still. Be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists — as it surely will. Then act with courage.”