Oregon tribes target domestic violence
American Indian women are battered and raped at higher rates than any other group of women in the U.S., and that's only the reported cases.
After years of ignoring the problem, or sending victims to off-reservation shelters, only to see them leave and return to abusive homes, Indian tribes are stepping up to acknowledge and address the problem.
In Oregon, the Indian Country Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault began forming in 2002, and is one of 14 tribal organizations nationwide being aided in the effort with a six-figure grant from the Office of Justice in Washington, D.C.
Marie Calica, director of Warm Springs Victims of Crime, helped found the Oregon coalition, which represents the nine federally-recognized Indian tribes in the state. Calica serves as president of the coalition's board of directors, vice president is Marvin Garcia of the Klamath Tribe, secretary is Desiree Allen-Cruz of Umatilla, and treasurer is Jean Cookson of the Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw tribes.
Because Madras is centrally located, the Indian Country Coalition's state office has opened here, and invites the community to see what it's all about during an open house from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, July 25. The office is at 216 SW Fifth Street, across from Pepe's Restaurant. The office can be contacted at 475-6690.
Staffing the office are Lucinda George, executive director, and Debra Kalama, outreach coordinator, with a secretary still to be hired.
George has a lot of experience with domestic abuse, having worked with the Wenachee Police Department as a victim's advocate, and as a liaison between the court system and victims of crime.
She has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Lewis Clark College in Idaho, master's degree in sociology from Eastern Washington University, is a graduate of the Idaho Police Academy, and currently is three credits from earning a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego. Kalama's background is in the business field.
Setting up a uniform program to help tribes curb domestic violence isn't that simple, George said, noting, "The state has its standard, but the tribes have tribal jurisdictions, sovereignty, their own laws and politics."
The Madras office plans to start by sending a survey to all the tribes, on aspects of abuse towards elders, children, women and men. The survey will help pinpoint the needs throughout Indian Country, since each tribe has varying degrees of service.
Next, George will develop a directory of Native American shelters and domestic abuse centers in the state, so referrals can be made when the need arises.
"Women need a place to go when dealing with domestic situations, but groups like COBRA are not culturally suited to our women, and they don't stay very long," Kalama said.
According to figures from the November 2000 National Institute of Justice report, one in three Indian women (including Alaskan natives) are raped in their lifetime, much higher than other U.S. ethnic groups. The battering rate against Indian women is 23.2 per 1,000, compared to eight per 1,000 among Caucasian women.
The U.S. Department of Justice -- American Indians and Crime Report form 1999, revealed that about eight out of 10 Indian victims of rape or sexual assault were estimated to have assailants who were White or Black.
The problem has finally gotten attention at the national level among tribes.
"Marie (Calica) attended the National Congress of American Indians and got them to recognize we need to deal with domestic violence, and they did a resolution," George said.
The NCAI resolution, signed June 18, 2003, in Phoenix, Ariz., publicly acknowledged the plight of tribal women and was in support for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
"Domestic violence was not part of traditional Native American culture," George said, noting it was triggered by many factors including post-traumatic stress from being overtaken by a dominant society, boarding school, alcoholism, and tribal men joining the military and returning home with a "military mind set" of how to deal with problems.
"We would like to bring back the cultural values and traditions where women and children were honored, and get the message out to Indian Country that domestic violence and sexual abuse is not O.K.," George said.
One tool to help educate tribal members will be a video the Madras office will be producing, on domestic violence, sexual assault, child and elder abuse, which will be directed by Native American people.
For non-Indian groups, George is offering to do workshops on the cultural components needed in dealing with Native American abuse victims.
Getting tribes to acknowledge the problem is the first step toward healing.
"We've come a long way since, 1980. Tribal law is starting to open its eyes to domestic violence," George said, adding, "I want a better future for Indian children. I don't want them to witness domestic abuse and you've got to start some place."