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Oldest Native women's shelter seeks help

EMMONAK, Alaska - The nation's oldest Native women's shelter closed its
doors and has sent out a plea for help across the country.

The Emmonak Women's Shelter, a village-based program that serves five
Yup'ik Eskimo villages in southwestern Alaska, has been providing a safe
haven for women and children since 1979. The staff at the nine-bed shelter
are all Alaska Natives.

The shelter, the first Native shelter in Alaska was funded by the state of
Alaska and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault: but its
grant has run out.

The Emmonak shelter is one of just two Native-run shelters in Alaska.

"Our fiscal year begins July 1 [and ends] June 30 of each year and we apply
for a two-year grant every other year," said Shelter Director Lynn Hootch.

The staff has been laid off and the shelter's executive director has been
working on a volunteer basis until funding can be optained.

"We have not been able to service victims in need of safety. An elder sat
in our front steps, fleeing from violence at her home, hoping the doors
would open. No one was at the shelter," she said.

Messages are left on the shelter's crisis line from women in need of a safe
place to go. Calls made to the shelter on June 27 were sent to an answering
machine. Women in crisis were instructed to call local law enforcement.

"With so much work to be done, this is devastating to our organization,"
she said.

The shelter has requested donations from other shelters and domestic
violence programs to reopen its doors.

Sacred Circle, a national resource to end violence against Native women,
has challenged its staff and the staff at Cangleska Inc. to pledge at least
$20 each to help the shelter reopen. Sacred Circle is hoping others will
follow its example.

"We are asking for any donations to assist us in covering our office
expenses, staffing, so that we may continue this difficult but important
work to end violence against Alaska Native and American Indian women,
children, elders and girls. We are a tax-exempt organization, and
therefore, any contributions will be tax-deductible," she said.

Our membership consists of Alaska Native and American Indian women
advocates and others who are working to address this epidemic," she said.

"We believe we can and have been addressing [these] violent acts of hurting
our women, which is not our natural way of life, by education using our
values, customs and traditions," the shelter director said.

The financially strapped shelter was discussed at the National Congress of
American Indians in Green Bay earlier in June as tribal leaders supported
domestic violence programs and shelters.

A domestic violence task force made up of members from across the country
talked about the fight to keep the tribal set-asides which are part of the
2005 Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. The act provides federal
money to existing Native shelter programs and aids in the expansion of
Native programs under a tribal set-aside.

American Indian and Alaska Native leaders said the federal set-asides for
the programs are at risk because of key congressmen who oppose the funding
of tribal programs and look more favorably at funding state-run programs.
However, the Native shelters - which are small in number in comparison to
state-run programs - provide cultural and traditional help to victims that
the states do not.

Geri Simon, a member of the Alaska Native Women's Coalition, said Sen. Ted
Stevens, R-Alaska, has opposed federal funding for the shelter.

Domestic violence against Alaska Natives is the same rate as for American
Indian women, which is more than twice the average of other women across
the nation.

Anyone wishing to help the shelter may send donations to the Emmonak
Woman's Shelter, P.O. Box 207, Emmonak, AK 99581.

Kay Humphrey is a public awareness advocate for Sacred Circle National
Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women.