She Survived Years of Trauma. Now She’s Helping Other Native Women Heal

Norine Hill founded Mother Nation to help Native American women overcome abuse, alcoholism and homelessness — the bitter legacy of generations of trauma.

By Christina Kelly

Read related article: A Survivor Uses Sweat Lodges, Talking Circles and Dream Catchers to Bring Healing to Native Women

Read Full Transcript

Norine: The Mother Nation, we are the daughters of warriors, the sisters of survivors, and the mothers of the resilient. We are beautiful indigenous women.

TEXT: Norine Hill – Founder + CEO Mother Nation – Seattle, Wash.

Norine: Mother Nation is a grassroots nonprofit organization. We provide services and mentorship, advocacy, cultural services, and homelessness prevention. It's custom designed for each participant. We focus on that cultural part of who they are to regain their cultural identity again.

TEXT: Norine is a member of the Oneida Nation. Their homelands are in New York and Ontario, Canada.

TEXT: She was raised on the Oneida settlement near London, Ontario.

Norine: My grandfather and even my aunts and my cousins, they were stolen right from their mom by white people. They were put into boarding school. They were raped. They were beaten. They weren't allowed to speak their language. They weren't taught how to love, so they didn't teach their children how to love.

TEXT: Norine was sexually abused for the first time when she was 4.

Norine: There was a lot of alcohol and drugs involved and I ended up running away from home. I would steal and I got really good at it. This is how I used to survive on the streets.

TEXT: In 1987 Norine met the man who became the father of her three children.

Norine: When I met the kids' dad, I found somebody who was going to take care of me. He supported me a lot. He really pushed me through school and helped me finish and when I finished, I felt so good.

TEXT: Norine went to Fanshawe College in London, Ontario. But by 2000 the relationship with her partner spiraled into cycles of abuse.

Norine: We tried our very best to hold our family together. But we didn't stand a chance to even last in relationship because of the trauma that we both carried.

TEXT: Norine looked for help from Oneida Clan Mothers and traditional Native healers.

Norine: So I ended up in Tennessee with a Cherokee and Tuscarora healer and it changed my whole life. It changed who I was. It really helped with letting for of the historical trauma part of it.

TEXT: In 2005 Norine dreamed she was standing on a cliff high above the ocean. Soon after she decided to move to Seattle to continue her healing.

SOT: It’s already tied on there. There’s cedar on the other side if you want to grab some and just add it on. We’re going to find some way to like, link it together to make a roof. Tuck it in there. It will smell nice at the next sweat.

Norine: When I first came here, I was drawn to the Native nonprofits to gain knowledge of the community of where I'm at, and to acknowledge the territory I'm on.

SOT: This is to protect our prayers and our healing.

TEXT: Norine began to work for Catholic Community Services’ Spirit Journey House. In her spare time, she helped Native women struggling with the system.

Norine: I had a friend, a best friend that was having issues with her child's school. So I called the school. I said, “I’m calling from Native Women in Need. I'm going to be attending the meeting with my friend.” And it changed everything for her. I said, “Look how easy that was. We just called and said you had support and they totally changed their demeanor in how they’re dealing with you.” She goes, “Yeah.”

TEXT: In 2012 Norine started Native Women in Need.

SOT: She’s our new cultural services coordinator. Yeah, she’s going to be working with Arlene for the house and for the community.

Norine: When a person walks in our office, they'll see their intake case manager, but they'll also be seeing our cultural services team as well. Because without cultural identity, and without healing, there's no chance for us as Native people. We've helped women who have been chronically homeless for 5 years, 10 years.

TEXT: The organization holds talking circles and sweat lodge ceremonies to help the women cleanse and heal.

Norine: We pray together, we share our songs, we share our knowledge, and it's a safe place for them to come to, you know, release whatever's going on with them at that time.

SOT: I know that if I wasn’t here in this home I wouldn’t have my own home today.

TEXT: In 2016 the organization changed its name to Mother Nation. It has 9 employees and an operating budget of over $600,000 a year.

TEXT: Funding comes from tribal casinos, individual donors, foundations and government agencies.

Norine: We’ve helped about 300 women in the past 2 years. It’s not a high number because it’s not an assembly line. Sometimes women, they heal faster than others.

Norine: They have to want it. They have to be able to be ready for it. Once they get into our mentorship program, we invest in them and they become successful, and they find their place and their path. Their get their housing. They get their children back. They have employment and they start living their life.

Posted: May 7, 2018

Christina KellyShe Survived Years of Trauma. Now She’s Helping Other Native Women Heal