(William Strongheart plays ‘Virgil’ in the movie, Indian Horse)
A former partner is crying foul about a mea culpa issued by Indian Horse actor William Strongheart.
“He has never personally apologized to me,” Melanie Rope said after seeing Strongheart’s statement on Facebook Sunday.
“I have tried to email him a couple of times since 2014 asking for an apology I never got.”
In a post about his “healing journey” on his Facebook page Strongheart offers “sincere apologies” to those he says he has hurt.
“To those I have wronged, and caused undo grief and anguish, I wish to extend the hope of reconciliation and healing with you,” he writes.
“Violence is wrong in every facet and violence against women – particularly Indigenous women – has been a part of our communities for far too long. I am coming forward today to acknowledge that in my past I have contributed to this issue and have caused tremendous pain and trauma to women in my life.”
Strongheart says he is making the statement in response to an online post that alleges he committed domestic violence and shows a photo of Rope with her face bruised.
Rope told APTN News she publishes the post every few months to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Indigenous community.
She thinks, with the movie coming out, the time is right for an Indigenous #MeToo Movement.
“I just feel it’s wrong for a person like Will to be representing Indigenous people in Canada and the U.S.,” she said in a telephone interview.
Rope shared legal documents with APTN showing Strongheart was convicted of assaulting her in 2010. The documents show he was sentenced to 23 months for two counts of bodily harm.
Strongheart confirms the violence in his post.
“During a dark chapter of my life I committed physical assaults against women that I knew in my heart were wrong. I am not making excuses to justify my past actions, I am sharing where I was at that point in my life – a point where I had lost control of everything including my emotions and was battling alcoholism and drug abuse,” he wrote.
Rope’s post has since been removed and her account suspended by Facebook for 30 days, she said.
She views his post as an attempt at damage control.
“I believe this is in a desperate last attempt to save his career and image. I do not believe his man was ever sorry, he wanted to hide this for years,” she said.
“Instead of taking his opportunity to privately respond to my email and apologize, he sent his lawyers after us with cease and desist letters. He is not sympathetic for his actions at all.”
Fox also received a ‘cease and desist’ letter, and shared a copy with APTN.
Strongheart is starring in the film Indian Horse, an adaptation of a best-selling novel about residential schools by the late Richard Wagamese. He did not respond to a request for an interview with APTN.
Parole board documents show Strongheart was released in 2013 with a note saying he did not complete “any domestic violence programming during this sentence.”
The documents say he was released on conditions he “report all intimate sexual and non-sexual relationships with females” to his parole supervisor and was “not allowed to take up residence with any female unless you have the approval of your parole supervisor.”
A second woman, Dee Fox, provided a statement to police in 2006 alleging that she was sexually and physically assaulted by Strongheart, but no charges were laid.
This was confirmed in the parole document that states: “These are domestic relationships and the assaults are similar in nature. A third victim has provided a statement, although no charges were pursued as the police could not contact her.”
Fox says she and Rope have become advocates for change and say #TimesUp on sexual harassment, assault and abuse, especially now that Canada is spending millions of dollars examining the factors contributing to the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“Indigenous women are the most unprotected women in Canada,” Fox said. “Statistics show this.”
Nine per cent of indigenous women reported spousal violence in 2014. That’s more than double the number of non-indigenous people (four per cent) who reported family violence.
A 2014 report – Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview – compiled by the RCMP, shows police databases had records for 164 missing Indigenous women and 1,017 Indigenous women who had been murdered over the past 30 years.
Fox doesn’t want to discredit Wagamese or the movie. She and Rope, who met via Facebook several years ago, say they are simply using the publicity to get their message out.
“How is that OK for him to be someone to represent our stories?” Fox said.
But the third victim named in Rope’s Facebook post doesn’t agree with public naming and shaming.
“They should never use my name,” she said, noting “there are lies in this post, as well.”
However, she did not specify what was inaccurate.
The woman said she does support creating awareness, “but we have our own journeys.”
Rope said her story is a platform to help other victims of domestic violence.
“Maybe a couple times a year I’ll speak out,” she said. “He’s been able to become quite a successful person in his life regardless of the things that he’s done and it really, really bothers me.”
Meanwhile, three female producers, who are working on the film, emailed a statement to APTN in response to Rope’s Facebook post.
They “acknowledge the courage of the women who have come forward” and say they “honour and respect their voices.”
They say while making the film, they “have strived to come to terms with the injustices faced by Indigenous peoples in this country, and have opened our eyes to the vicious cycle that affects Indigenous men, women and families.”
A biography on the Indian Horse website says Strongheart began acting in 2015 in the Robert Redford TV mini-series Crazyhorse for AMC.
He is also a sometime rap musician who grew up in Saskatchewan and Kansas.