Deviney Luchsinger/Multimedia Specialist
*Editor’s Note: This story contains subject matter that some may find disturbing.
Barnett describes workplace as tolerant of sexual harassment
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — In an interview with Mvskoke Media, Muscogee (Creek) Nation National Council Rep. Dode Barnett alleged Council Speaker Lucian Tiger inappropriately touched her before a planning session two years ago.
Barnett said she was standing near the door between the Council Chambers and the Council offices when the incident occurred. She said while talking to another representative, Tiger approached her from behind and slapped her on the rear end.
“I felt it and it hurt and it jolted me and he let out a big, ‘woo!’ and kept walking,” Barnett said. “I was stunned. I was embarrassed. I thought, you know, ‘how unprofessional.’ ”
Tiger was a representative and not the Council speaker at the time of the alleged incident.
Mvskoke Media reached out to Tiger Dec. 4 and he declined to comment for this story.
Barnett said a Council representative was present and reacted to the event by saying, ‘well that was personal.’
Mvskoke Media reached out to the witness who verified the incident, but declined to be named for this story.
“My reaction was shock. I couldn’t believe what I had seen, especially in the National Council office. I was shocked at what I thought I saw at least,” the witness said.
The witness perceived Barnett’s attitude toward the event as funny and said Barnett reacted with a laugh.
The witness said they had the opinion Barnett and Tiger were good friends and because of their established dynamic, it allowed them to be comfortable with a certain type of behavior.
The witness said they believed the definition of sexual harassment is up to the individual involved and not necessarily the perspective of a witness.
Barnett said her reaction was along the lines of a nervous laugh.
“…As far as like, ‘Oh ha ha ha ha, he’s so funny,’ no,” she said.
Barnett said at the time she considered Tiger a friend. When asked if perhaps the incident was a misunderstanding on Tiger’s part regarding boundaries, she said it was possible he misinterpreted their boundaries.
“I can’t speak to his heart or his mind. I mean clearly something in his brain thought he had permission to do that to me,” she said.
Barnett said she approached Tiger privately after the incident and expressed her displeasure about what had occurred.
“I said, ‘Look that was really inappropriate. I don’t appreciate it and you don’t have permission to touch me’,” Barnett said. “I was really mad and I was shocked and I was hurt and he laughed. He laughed at me and he turned and he walked away.”
Barnett said she approached Tiger a second time after the planning session to set boundaries between them and to cease any inappropriate behavior.
She said Tiger dismissed the conversation and did not apologize.
Barnett said she confided in Rep. Mark Randolph about the event and he advised her to report the incident to the Council Internal Affairs Committee.
Incidents involving Council representatives are investigated through IAC.
Barnett said she did not feel IAC would take her seriously.
She felt she was right in not reporting the incident based on the way her investigation was handled by the committee when there were formal complaints against her.
Mvskoke Media contacted Randolph, who verified their interaction.
Barnett said she considered the repercussions in filing a formal complaint against Tiger and the effect it could have on her personal and professional life.
“If I had said, ‘Lucian Tiger sexually harassed me,’ I would have been the rep. who claimed sexual harassment. I would not have been the rep. that cared about her people,” she said.
Barnett said she decided to focus on the matter personally and not address it externally, which she later felt was a mistake.
She said she wondered that if someone in her position was afraid to come forward, if MCN employees would also be afraid.
Barnett said before she was elected to Council she was sexually harassed by an MCN employee and said MCN had mishandled sexual harassment cases.
She said by coming forward with her personal story, she hopes it will shed light on deficiencies regarding policy for sexual harassment at MCN.
“…Make it better and protect our people,” Barnett said. “We need to have an environment that is conducive to people’s success and not have a trauma factory right here that we fund every year.”
Sexual harassment at MCN
Barnett said MCN has a work culture of tolerance towards sexual harassment.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s unacceptable and we tolerate it because we create the culture here. So if we don’t tolerate it, then we can end it, but it’s up to us.”
Mvskoke Media contacted the Office of the Principal Chief Dec. 4 and did not receive a response as of press time.
MCN Human Resources handles complaints of sexual harassment from Executive Branch employees.
Human Resources provided facts and information to Mvskoke Media about the MCN sexual harassment policy.
They said the department has not received harassment claims of any kind in 18 months.
Human Resources said the department received a couple of claims two years ago that were investigated and action was taken.
They said the department will offer a 1-800 number in the future for employees to report their claim anonymously to a third party.
Mvskoke Media conducted an anonymous poll in October regarding sexual harassment. Mvskoke Media cannot verify who responded to the poll, or if non-citizens and non-employees responded.
According to the 32 responses to the poll, 25 percent of respondents said they are victims of sexual harassment at MCN, and roughly 44 percent have witnessed sexual harassment first hand at MCN.
MCN Family Violence Prevention Program Director Shawn Partridge said she agrees there is a culture of tolerance towards sexual harassment to some degree at MCN.
“I have seen that. I have witnessed that and I have experienced it myself,” she said. “And I think a lot of the times we tend to brush things off like, ‘oh it’s just joking or it’s a sense of humor,’ but in reality it is inappropriate and it perpetuates this culture of not only sexual harassment, but gender discrimination and sexism.”
What constitutes sexual harassment? An amendment passed in 2014 to MCN Code Annotated Title 37 Chapter 3 Subchapter 10 titled, ‘Sexual Harassment Prohibited,’ defines it as offenses ranging from unwanted advances and requests, ogling and unwelcomed touching, to assault and rape.
Partridge said sexual harassment also includes making conditions of employment dependent on sexual favors and verbal harassment of a sexual nature.
“Often times, I think when we think about sexual harassment we’re thinking that [it’s] occurring from one individual harassing another individual, but it can also include if there are bystanders who overhear inappropriate jokes of a sexual nature… can be considered sexual harassment,” Partridge said.
According to the poll data, 53 percent said MCN does not have adequate policy to address sexual harassment in the work place. Another 28 percent responded, ‘I don’t know.’
One commenter wrote, ‘MCN is on the right track – sexual harassment is an uncomfortable topic for most people. No two people feel the same way about their own bodies. Sexual harassment is a topic that so many people are in a mental denial of anyway, so if and when it does happen to[t] them they will tend to self blame instead of “self-assert.”’
Recently in the mainstream media, there has been an outpour of victims coming forward to tell their story and publicly naming their alleged abusers in positions of power. The #MeToo campaign, a hashtag originating on Twitter that has created a space for people to publicly share their stories, show support and find solidarity, has over 1.7 million participants from over 85 countries according to CBS News.
Partridge said this awareness is long overdue.
“While I do see a lot of support and accountability for perpetrators that’s being talked about in mainstream media, on the other hand, there are still those forces who focus or perpetuate victim blaming,” she said.
Partridge said she hopes it sparks discussions about advocacy, awareness and education on sexual harassment and assault. She said she too has personally used the campaign to reflect on her department and herself, especially in her role as employee advocate.
Barnett said the system MCN has in place to address sexual harassment is inefficient.
“We don’t have adequate laws, we don’t have adequate training and we don’t have a culture that will tolerate or embrace discussion of our deficiencies here,” Barnett said.
How does an employee report sexual harassment at MCN? In the MCN Employee Policy and Procedures on the MCN website, Chapter H, Title 2 gives five steps.
The first is to document the incident with as much detail as possible.
The next step is to submit a written complaint on a Sexual Harassment Complaint Form to the major department head. The department head should investigate the allegation and respond in writing within three days.
If the issue is not resolved, the next step is to submit a Sexual Harassment Complaint Form directly to Human Resources within four days after receiving a response from the department head.
Within three days, Human Resources will give their findings and recommended solutions in writing.
If there is still a problem, a complaint should be filed to the Grievance Appeals Committee through Human Resources within four days after the proposed solution. They will investigate and provide their final decision.
These steps are available online in more detail on the MCN website.
Partridge said her role is to guide employees through the process if they choose to report. Her department can also provide support and resources for the victim.