Mercy Has a Human Heart

Dr. Sana Hamzeh

MOENKOPI, AZ – People often ask why someone would torture another human being. The long and short of torture is that it exists and leaves behind devastation unequal to any natural force. This man-made devastation is complex, multi-pronged, long-term, and often cyclical; and more importantly hard to comprehend much less understand.

Indigenous peoples around the world are often some of the most vulnerable and invisible populations subject to torture. In a world where consumptive practices of commoditized resources are a premium, indigenous peoples experience the power and control wielded by those in position often through illegal and deadly means.

This continues to be a part of the indigenous narrative and it became even more polarized on a personal level when I was the Associate Director of the Hopi Foundation when relatives from west central South America traveled thousands of miles to seek help. It was my first introduction to missing and murdered indigenous peoples in real-time.

Sad to say, the exploitation and torture of indigenous peoples, including North American Indian Tribes and Alaska Natives is a part of our history. You don’t have to look far to see the remnants of destruction left across Indian Country because it is part of our experience and in many ways, remains so.

Helping torture survivors is not easy by any imagination of the mind. It is often a long reach beyond an overwhelming sense of helplessness to arrive at a space of determination that perhaps something could be done to help individuals who by luck or chance, survived torture.

Under the auspices of the Hopi Foundation, we established the Center for the Prevention and Resolution of Violence and subsequently the Owl and Panther Program in Tucson, Arizona with the help of psychiatrist Barbara Chester, Rob Robin, Barbara Poley, Marianna Neil, Amy Shubitz, and Marge Pellegrino. It is a place where clinical help was provided to t