Coming together for sacredness for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

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DURANGO, Colo. – After weeks of exciting activities during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition concluded it with the first Wellness and the Sacred Woman Summit Nov. 7 and 8. The sound of drums and chants could be heard at Fort Lewis College’s (FLC) College Union Building Ballroom, a symbol of healing and blessings with the coming together.

The Summit was hosted by Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition (OSKC), a non-profit tribal coalition that assists survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, developed out of Ignacio, and the FLC Native American Center (NAC).

The theme “Succeeding in an Oppressive Community through Wellness and Reconciliation” provided participants with valuable information on issues affecting women today, especially American Indian women since the arrival of European settlers, in turn, impacting a way of traditional way of life and the sacredness of women within the family and community roles.

Fort Lewis College’s President Brad Bartel along with Yvonne Bilinski, Director of the NAC, opened up the Summit with concerns of providing better safety and procedures for Native students, due to the rising numbers of students attending each year, which consists of 20 percent of the college’s student population.

Next, Small Axe Small Steps (SASS), a student formed organization at FLC presented a film called “Honouring Our Voices” (1993) produced by the Native Counseling Services of Alberta, the movie was about a group of Native women who experienced domestic violence, and family violence. This film depicts their decisions on how these women overcame violence and ended the silence on abuse. Native women experience one of the highest amounts of violence at two times the national rate. Women victims are at the top of the list of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes.

The following day, two key speakers, Peggy Bird, an attorney/consultant/human rights activist of Santo Domingo Pueblo, N.M., and Diane Millich, executive director of Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition, each gave a presentation concerning the violence affecting Native women, as well as, solutions for these issues.

Bird spoke out on community accountability, which would include each and every person’s involvement through change – working together towards balance, equality and respect for all life.

“Creating laws and enforcing laws to protect women from violence creates peace in our communities,” Bird said.

Millich brought to light the Violence Against Women’s Act Tribal Provision, Title IX, which will provide legal protection for American Indian women on tribal reservations. This provision will strengthen tribal governmental procedures and make the laws more punitive when responding to domestic violence and sexual assault on native lands. Furthermore, the provision authorizes a national tribal sex offender and protection order registry on tribal lands.

Four forums were presented during the event. These forums included:

1.) Men’s Perspective on “Our Responsibilities as Partners, Fathers, Uncles, Brothers, and Sons” by Chris Jocks, Ray Vigil, Terry Gasdia, Shannon Brown, Michael Joseph, Robert Ortiz and Jason Hotchkiss,

2) Holistic Wellness on “A Journey to your Essence” by Della Romero,

3) Anti-Oppression Work on “Woman Making Change through Community Awareness” by Karen Nakayama and Melva Romero,

4) Diversity Panel on “Surviving Oppression through Wellness and Reconciliation” by Colleen Vigil, Lisa Dyson, Caryn Hacker, Michelle Olguin, Kayla Hatch Paddock and Bernice Gonzales.

The “Men’s Perspective” forum was the most popular.

“It was very informational. I enjoyed the men’s perspective. A lot of these men have experienced domestic violence in their lives,” Arlene Millich said, a board member for OSKC.

Boyd Lopez, a spiritual leader of Towaoc, Colo., was also present to pray and bless the Summit. Because of the sensitivity of the different subjects presented, counselors were on hand for individuals, who needed these services.

Organization and service providers attended the Summit from nearby and far off towns and counties within Colorado. Others came from as far as New Mexico, Arizona, California and Oklahoma, many of whom have never been to this part of the country.

“I really like being here at the summit. I hope to take back what I’ve learned here so that I can help the Native and Hispanic population,” said Stephanie Kelly, outreach coordinator for Tu Casa, a sexual assault and domestic violence service provider from Alamosa, Colo.

Throughout the event, each person was able to get their picture taken and placed onto the walls. People had the chance to write something good about a person, whether they knew them or not. This activity was done so that each person could continue the healing process through affirmations and empowerment.

In addition, Michael Joseph, a substance abuse counselor for Peaceful Spirit, presented a group activity “Emotional Healing through Grandfather Rocks” each person took a rock so that they could speak to the rock without any disclosure to anyone else. Instead, the rock stood as a model for continual healing. Soon afterwards, Lopez prayed over the rocks so that the process of healing could begin – at which time the rocks were returned to the earth.

Lopez concluded the final ceremony, while attendees stood together hand and hand for the well-being of all who were there and the renewal of each generation that has experienced the devastating effects of violence.

The summit stood as the start of new beginnings.

For more information on Our Sister’s Keeper Coalition, call (970) 259-2519, or the hotline at (970) 247-7888.