INDIAN ISLAND, Maine — She was a teenager the first time she left the Penobscot Indian Nation to live out on her own, and she felt completely alone when she was attacked by a fraternity member and ex-boyfriend on the University of Southern Maine campus.
“He actually physically assaulted me and strangled me,” Lena Lolar, who ended up dropping out of school, said Friday, recalling the attack that changed her life. “I was 19 and I was not sure what to do.”
Lolar, who now is an advocate for the Penobscot Nation Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocacy Center, said great steps have been made over the last decade in the fight against domestic violence. She said she wants other tribal members to know it’s not their fault and they are not alone if they have been victims of such violence.
The state’s five tribes will gather together to host the first ever inter-tribal tree lighting and candlelight vigil on Monday, Oct. 1, to kick off national Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“This is the first time that every tribal community in Maine has a domestic violence program,” Jane Root, director of the Maliseet Domestic and Sexual Abuse Advocacy Center, said Friday.
“For the first time, at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, a tree will be lit at every Wabanaki community — the Houlton Band of Maliseets, the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Indian Township, Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point and the Penobscot Nation” in support of the effort to end domestic violence, said Root, who is serving as a consultant for the Penobscots.
While the five different tribal events will be different in their own ways, “we’ll walk, have drumming, light the tree, and we’ll all be talking about the same issue at the same time,” she said.
Statistics show that domestic abuse is more prevalent among Native Americans than it is among other ethnic groups, so getting the word out about resources, legal and social advocacy, safety planning, support groups — all in a safe and private environment — is very important, said Brandon Walus, another advocate at the center.
Confidentiality is especially important because “this is a small community,” Root said.
Lolar, Walus and Root made purple ribbons on Friday morning that they later put up all over Indian Island.
Other Penobscot Nation events planned for Domestic Violence Awareness Month include a sunrise service on Monday, a community discussion about elder abuse, a shawl-making project for victims and survivors of abuse, a potluck social and a “reverse Trick or Treat” that will provide information to tribal members who are University of Maine students.
The sunrise service will begin at 6:15 a.m. along the Penobscot River behind St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Root said.
A video titled “Martha’s Story,” about a woman in Maine who endured 50-plus years of domestic violence, will be shown to staff and community members at 2 p.m. Oct. 12 and will be followed by a group discussion.
From 3 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 12, community members are invited to make a shawl for the Penobscot Nation Shawl Project to be displayed at community events.
“There are different felts of different colors that we use depending on the abuse,” said Root, who has been an advocate against domestic violence for 23 years. “White is for murder, blue is for child abuse, red is for sexual abuse, brown is for racism and yellow is for domestic violence.”
Those colors can be mixed by those who experience more than one type of abuse, she said.
The Penobscot Nation potluck social is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Community Center, 12 Wabanaki Way. The shawls and local art created by children will be put on display at the event.
The final event for the month is a “Reverse Trick or Treat.” Advocates will place bags of candy and information about how to recognize domestic violence, and resources available for victims, on the doors of Native American students at UMaine.
Knowing where to turn is one key to overcoming trauma, said Lolar, who eventually returned to school at the University of Maine in Orono to focus on women’s studies and psychology.
When she was attacked a decade ago, Lolar said, “I had no idea that advocacy programs existed. I felt so alone. I felt isolated and there weren’t people around that I could trust. That’s one of the reasons we’re doing this.”
For more information, contact the Penobscot Nation Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocacy Center at 817-3167, ext. 4.