Robin Charboneau is on the road to recovery – and she knows it’s going to be a long journey.
The 32-year-old divorced single mother and Oglala Sioux woman now lives on North Dakota’s Spirit Lake Reservation.
For the past three years, Charboneau let film crews into her life and chronicle her struggles to raise her two children, further her education and heal from the wounds of sexual abuse she suffered as a child. The result is the two-part documentary, “Kind Hearted Woman.”
|If you go
WHAT: “Kind Hearted Woman” screening
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursdayï»¿
WHERE: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, 2401 12th NW
HOW MUCH: Free
The series will premiere at 7 p.m. April 1-2 on PBS. There will also be a special screening at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. The event is free and open to the public and will have a discussion moderated by Tara Gatewood, host of the radio program, “Native America Calling.”
“I was terrified of telling my story,” Charboneau explains. “The director was only the third person I had ever told about my story. Now I was supposed to tell complete strangers and that was very intimidating. At the same time, I have kept this a secret for so long, it started to become freeing.”
“Kind Hearted Woman” also follows Charboneau’s battles in tribal court with her ex-husband for custody of the children, even after he is convicted of abusive sexual contact with his daughter, illuminating how serious this problem is on the reservation. Her quest to heal her family, find a man worthy of her love, build a career and fulfill her goal of returning to her reservation to help prevent the abuse of women and children, takes her on an intimate and inspiring journey full of heartbreak, discovery and redemption.
Charboneau and director David Sutherland started working together after she sent him one of her poems.
“I knew he made documentaries for PBS and asked me to be one of his subjects after he got the poem I sent him,” she recalls. “I told him of all my demons on how I was abused as a child by my adopted family and how I would go downhill and start drinking. I struggle with it all and am still working to make it all better.”
With her story, Charboneau says she now deals with losing the family that raised her.
“They don’t want nothing to do with me, and I was just a foster child to them,” she says. “They were supposed to protect me and they hurt me. When I decided to tell my story, they all turned their backs on me because I told the secrets.”
Sutherland says he chose Charboneau because he had never really had a Native American woman as a subject.
He says he got the idea while working on his previous film, “The Farmer’s Wife.”
“I’ve worked a lot chronicling life in rural poverty,” he says. “My last film didn’t delve into the abuse that exists in these areas. What I wanted to do is work with mental health groups and recovery groups. I found one group that was working with women who were trying to recover from abuse. In this group, this is where I found Robin, but not on the first try. I was trying to reach out to another forgotten corner of the American landscape, this time to put a face on a Native family so that we could see them close-up with all the detail that illuminates the rich reality of their lives.”
Charboneau’s daughter, Darian, is now 17 years old and her son, Anthony, is 12.
Charboneau says that each of her children has grown into an upstanding youth.
“Darian now works with various groups about abuse and how to notice the warning signs for abuse,” she says. “Anthony gives presentations on ADHD. Both of them are very outspoken and are able to be role models for younger people.”
Charboneau says it’s her goal to bring attention to abuse on the reservations.
“The fact is, the numbers are low because of the under reporting,” she says. “The reality of people being victims of abuse on the reservation is high. But we are raised that you don’t talk about the stuff and ‘don’t tell the family secrets.’ David has changed my life forever because he listened when no one else did. It’s improved our lives and I am continuing to work on being a better person and get myself together. It’s a struggle, but now I’m on a better path.”