Our beloved sister Tillie Black Bear passed over Saturday evening, July 19th, 2014. The NIWRC will forever hold Tillie in our hearts and honor her dedication to the safety of Native women and sovereignty for Indian nations. Tillie was known as the Grandmother of the Battered Women’s Movement for her leadership spanning almost four decades.
In 1978, as a young woman Tillie began her national movement building by testifying at the first US Commission on Civil Rights hearings on wife beating. The same year Tillie went on to lead in building organizations that continue to serve as houses of the movement – the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. At the same time, Tillie organized on the Rosebud Indian Reservation serving as a founding mother to the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society and establishing the first Native women’s shelter in the United States.
For the next three decades Tillie’s leadership continued to indigenize federal legislation - VAWA, FVPSA and much more. In 1995, after passage of VAWA, Tillie met with DOJ to plant the seed that VAWA include Indian tribes. In 2000, Tillie helped shape the new VAWA tribal coalition program. In 2003, Tillie led a Wiping of the Tears Ceremony at the Senate building to launch the struggle for the VAWA ‘05 Safety for Indian Women Act. In 2011, as part of the NCAI Task Force, Tillie met with United Nation’s SR Manjoo as a pathway to the VAWA 2013 victory. This same year, Tillie provided leadership as one of the founders of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.
Tillie’s understanding of social change, organizing and movement building to make connections beyond the shelter doors to end violence against women are her living legacy. For these gifts we say thank you, and honor Tillie by continuing to take on our responsibilities to continue her organizing and movement buliding. And to her daughters Connie and Melissa and the entire family, we thank you for sharing your beloved mother, sister, Unci for all these many years.
Tillie was a true strong heart. And although our hearts ache, we encourage all who knew and loved Tillie to be strong hearted in the days and months and years to come. We are forever thankful for her love, guidance, leadership, vision, and friendship.
Journey well, our dear Tillie Black Bear.