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Lakota society helps victims of violence

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ROSEBUD, S.D. - "Chanteskuya" found herself in an IHS emergency room with injuries to her head and lacerations on her face and hands, all the result of a beating with a baseball bat.

"I couldn't get support from family and the White Buffalo Calf Women's Society helped," Chanteskuya said. "People in the emergency room and the police helped get me to the shelter. All played a part to help and get me through a lot of things."

"Mariah" discovered herself alone, far away from home, beaten, her vehicle taken from her and her son hundreds of miles away. She found friends who were willing to help at the White Buffalo Calf Women's Society Shelter in Mission, S.D.

Mariah said she feels safe at the shelter. "There is a security system, and the police are very persistent enforcing orders. I lost more with my partner's family. My health was in jeopardy. It was not a good home setting. There was drinking and violence. I was not used to that environment," she said.

These two stories may not be unusual - domestic violence permeates much of American society. As elsewhere, violence on many reservations can be blamed on alcohol, drugs and the frustration of poverty. But it is still unacceptable to the people at the White Buffalo Calf Woman's Society.

Tillie Black Bear, director of the program, began her work in the battered women's movement in 1978. White Buffalo Calf Women's Society is the oldest program in the country for women of color. The society cares for 250 to 300 women a year and twice that many children. Its shelter has 45 beds that are usually filled.

Black Bear remembers her excitement when the program received its first grant of $1,500. Now, she said, the annual budget is more than $1 million. It is not a tribal program and relies heavily on grants and donations.

Violence may be increasing on the Rosebud Reservation, but Black Bear said women there are becoming less afraid to report violence because a safety net is evolving with law enforcement, a supportive judicial system and the society's shelter.

"On Rosebud the women feel they can get justice. They feel safe at the shelter. It's a lot of work, but we have a good staff," Black Bear said. "We work with social services and housing and have an advocate at the hospital and a 24-hour crisis phone. We assist women to get to a safe place."

That's the work of many shelters across the country. However, on reservations, closed communities with relatives and family who will protect perpetrators, law enforcement is very important. The Rosebud from page D1

Reservation has a mandatory arrest ordinance. The shelter's directors are not told the names of residents, lest they are relatives.

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Despite financial burdens, law enforcement is supportive of anti-violence measures. The Rosebud Public Safety Office has an officer assigned to handle domestic violence cases. Yet funding is low for law enforcement; Police Chief Harold Dean Salway said that officers could be up to seven calls behind.

"We have only 13 officers to cover the reservation," he said. "Traditionally, we had our societies in place that took care of our men and women. There was no tolerance for violence against family. Now that we have taken on western philosophies, the approach with law enforcement is that we have to fit in and utilize and represent the most of both worldviews. We are doing the best we can with the limited manpower."

On a reservation like Rosebud everyone is affected in some way by domestic violence. Rosebud Sioux Tribal President William Kindle signed a proclamation declaring October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month on the Rosebud Reservation.

"Each of us is affected by violence," Kindle said. "It is fortunate to have people like you who step forward to combat the problems we have. The violence starts in the home and you are making attempts to change that."

"I don't think that many of us are, everyday, conscious of how much domestic violence affects all of us," said Vi Burnett, Rosebud Juvenile Court Judge. "I see it because I'm the children's court judge and I know how much it effects our children. For everyone that is actually involved in the violence, you need to know that even if the kid was not hit, he knows what's going on. If they are behind closed doors or whatever it is, they know what is going on and they are scared. For someone who is being hit and has children you need to realize that."

The society offers several programs that have developed over the past 25 years to protect the victims and children, and to eradicate the violence from the reservation with training and workshops for perpetrators and family members.

"What we are finding today is that we are able to provide a comprehensive approach to end violence in the lives of women and children through pieces of legislation, through health care and through advocacy," Black Bear said. "The health field is now beginning to see and address the issue of violence that comes into the medical area. The IHS facility on Rosebud just recently collaborated with White Buffalo Calf for a grant to research how IHS can better serve the needs of the victims of domestic violence."

Black Bear noted that 25 years ago, she believed that domestic violence would end by the year 2000. "Today, there are and more shelters being built," she said.

Chanteskuya said the shelter has helped her enroll in a treatment program for post-traumatic stress disorder because of the beating incident. She now hopes to complete college courses at Sinte Gleska University. "The goal now is to survive. I have built my confidence and know I will get through this. Survival now is one day at a time."

Mariah said the most important person in her life is her one-and-one-half year old son, with whom she says she will be reunited.

"White Buffalo Calf helped me build strength. I can see now that I don't need this person (abuser). I can now see changes in myself. I was weak before and afraid of his abuse. Now all of that has changed."