Arming Sisters: documenting the empowerment of indigenous women

The greatest draw of crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter, is the discovery of unique and wonderful projects that may not otherwise come to fruition. One such project which deserves our support is a planned film by Willow O’Feral and Brad Heck titled Arming Sisters Documentary Film. The documentary will follow the non-profit Arming Sisters, an organization aimed at “using women’s self defense as a tool to bring about empowerment, self love, & ownership of body to indigenous women across the US & Canada.” Arming Sisters was founded by Lakota Native American Patty Stonefish. I had the pleasure of meeting Patty through a mutual acquaintance on Twitter, and we discussed her new initiative.

First, can you give a brief background on how you got started with martial arts, and a little about your heritage?

I’ve been practicing martial arts for a decade now. I got started, actually, because my Mom forced me into it. I wanted nothing to do with it in the beginning and it grew to become a passion of mine. Since then, I’ve learned Taekwondo, Hapkido, and Self-Defense. I’m German, Mexica, and Lakota.

What led to your work in Egypt, and can you tell me a little about it?

I moved to Cairo, Egypt, December 2010, just before the January 2011 revolution. Being there for three years gave me a chance to see a lot of things, good and bad, come about. After the revolution there was a sort of resurgence of art, and people generally finding their voices. As more people stood up and spoke out, especially the women, sexual harassment seemed to be on the rise, protests being one of the frequent places sexual harassment would take place. Pretty soon people started calling for women’s self-defense classes. My coach and I got together and started holding compact courses around the city with a group called Tahrir Body Guard, as well as on our own.

I know that your work in Egypt led to starting Arming Sisters. What are the goals of the organization, where are you now, and where do you plan on taking it?

We’re currently just getting our feet under us at the moment. We’ll be focusing on the Northern Plains (North Dakota/South Dakota/Minnesota) mid-July into late fall. Plans to continue a few courses past that depend on our funding as this summer/fall tour comes to an end. As far as goals with this organization go, we’re dreaming big! Deciding at the moment to have a seasonal road tour or have main locations set up throughout the US. Taking it as it comes right now and everything will fall into place in the coming years.

Filmmakers Willow O Feral and Brad Heck

Filmmakers Willow O Feral and Brad Heck

Is your organization just you? Are you teaming up with others to expand?

Arming Sisters currently consists of two people, myself and David Friedlander. We do plan to branch out in the future as far as team members go. How large we become depends on if we decide to keep Arming Sisters a seasonal tour or set up permanent locations throughout the US. We are constantly working with large organizations, though, to set up courses. This organization is not about prevention. It’s about empowerment. One of the quickest ways to empower one mentally is through physical action. When it comes to sexual harassment/abuse, etc., there is no sure-fire way of prevention, besides education of the younger generations, women and men alike.

How many indigenous women are affected by abuse, and it is physical or sexual . . . or both?

Well, pulling statistics, 1 in 3 indigenous women will report being raped in their life. One in five will experience domestic violence. I could throw statistics out all day long, but numbers don’t hit home, and number do not include those who do not report . . . which are many, myself included in the past. To put things into perspective, I personally do not know a single Native woman who has not dealt with abuse, be it sexual/physical/emotional, and the women who I’ve asked have the same thing to say.

Do most of the cases of abuse go unreported? If reported, are they just ignored?

I would have to say that yes, most cases of abuse go unreported. They usually remain unreported out of fear. Fear of the attacker and fear of the judicial system. Both are not misplaced, and reporting abuse is a personal choice.

If they are reported, it has been hard to get things done with them. Granted, recently I’ve had friends who have spoken up about childhood sexual abuse and both have cases building against their attacker. The problem with reporting, though, used to be the divide between jurisdictions. Up until last year when the Violence Against Women Act was passed, there were no tribal provisions given to deal with reports on reservations. Since reservations fall under federal law, there were cases coming up where a non-Native would attack on a reservation. Somewhere in the mix things get dropped, and for some places I would go as far as to say they are purposefully ignored.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to add that at this point in time, most self defense organizations/teachers have women’s self defense misunderstood and it’s causing a widespread misuse of the art. As I mentioned before, there is no such thing as prevention. The only true prevention is education of the younger generations, men and women alike. The idea behind Arming Sisters is not prevention, but utilizing women’s self-defense as a means to bring about empowerment, self-love, and ownership of body to our sisters across the US and Canada.

How can others get involved, and how can people request your training?

If anyone would like to be apart of Arming Sisters or would like to set up a course in their area, they may contact us through our website:

Interviewer’s note: In addition to visiting Patty’s website,, I encourage you to visit the documentary’s Kickstarter page and make a donation, regardless of the amount. The film will be bringing much attention to Patty’s campaign to positively influence and empower indigenous women of America.

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