Domestic violence continues to be a problem for Native communities

RAPID CITY, S.D. – There are no accurate statistics that could punctuate the impact domestic violence creates in Indian country, and many programs that fight domestic violence shy away from citing statistics because they can be misleading.

Information used by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women claims that one out of every three American Indian women will be raped; that six out of 10 will be physically assaulted; and that nine out of 10 rapes or assaults against American Indian women are committed by non-Indian assailants.

No statistics are in available for 2006.

In the past, the U.S. Justice Department has been the prosecuting agency domestic violence cases ; but prosecution would not always occur. Tribal courts were restricted in sentencing guidelines; therefore, if the perpetrator was prosecuted in tribal court, he may not have received an appropriate sentence.

On Jan. 5, 2006, President Bush signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 into law. This latest reauthorization strengthened the position of American Indian women by allowing tribes to exercise their sovereign authority in response to violent crimes.

The reauthorization was the result of hard work by anti-domestic violence programs from across the nation, and when passed and signed became cause for celebration.

When prosecuted and convicted in tribal courts, the sentencing of batterers has been extended beyond a term of one year and a $5,000 fine. The original act, written in 1994, included American Indian nations but did not address many of the complicated issues involved with tribal governments. The 2005 reauthorization covers many such issues.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe on the Pine Ridge Reservation has one of the strongest criminal codes for violent crimes in Indian country. That code was the result of years of work by the organizers of the Rapid City-based Sacred Circle, a domestic violence shelter and program that is a project of Cangleska Inc. on Pine Ridge. The code is now being used as a basis for other tribal codes across the nation.

The year 2006 saw the growth of programs, workshops and legal services from Sacred Circle and Cangleska. The effects can be seen in the awareness and change in men’s attitudes toward violence, and is most noticeable in families where women and men have dedicated themselves to learning about violence through workshops and court-ordered treatment programs.

This past year on Pine Ridge, Indian country’s role model program, operated by Cangleska, moved a few steps forward to better serve women and families. A new shelter, scheduled for completion in early spring, will house more than twice the number as the old shelter.

Karen Artichoker, co-manager of Cangleska, said she believed that domestic violence on the reservation can be eliminated, because cultural values are at the heart of the education programs offered by Cangleska and other programs around the country.

In 2006, Artichoker received the national 21st Century Women’s Award, given by the organization eWomen. Artichoker was among 21 women across the nation who received the award, which touts the accomplishments of women who make a difference in society and in people’s lives.

The Cangleska programs count men as integral to the elimination of violence against women. In these weekly re-education programs, men discuss their feelings about violence and what personal issues they need to work on to prevent them from committing acts of violence.

The men in the workshops either grew up with violence, or at some time in their lives witnessed violence against a relative or an acquaintance. While they say that violence surrounds them in their daily lives, they are working to acquire a mindset that does not allow them to participate in violence.

The men’s program at Cangleska is facilitated by Foster Cournoyer, Yankton Nakota, who has a history of committing domestic abuse. He listens to the men and uses traditional, cultural beliefs to help the men work through their problems and understand that violence is not traditional.

The program is designed to allow the men to attend on their own, even after they have completed the required 24 weeks of re-education.

For 10 days in the late summer, men attend a camp in which they work hard, interact with horses and the natural surroundings, and have time to talk about their issues with violence. This program is growing, and in 2006 had one of the largest groups.

This past year was a banner year for people and organizations who work to eradicate violence against women, and in Indian country the growth of programs and shelters is increasing. But, as Artichoker said, someday it will be eliminated.

The opening of the Stronghold legal services office in Rapid City added an important dimension to the anti-violence movement. Any woman who declares herself to be a victim of domestic violence is offered assistance.

Stronghold’s staff attorney will work with women to fill out any legal papers necessary and will appear with them in court. Many times the women have issues with housing, income and the custody of her children; the legal service will assist with those issues.

This service is funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Grants and donations are essential to continue the work performed by anti-domestic violence programs and each year there is a struggle for financing. In 2006, Cangleska received federal and foundation grants and low-interest loans that allowed them to construct the new facility.

Artichoker is dedicated to the statement: “Children have a right to grow up here. All we are trying to do is help rebuild a nation.”