The coronavirus pandemic has put many people — Native women especially — in peril from domestic violence, as more and more people are forced to stay home, escalating this unprecedented problem across the United States. The reality is that when households are already volatile or under stress, asking family members to stay home together only exacerbates issues of domestic violence.
Domestic violence calls are on the rise in 2020, and the increase in this type of crime has dire consequences for the survivors, their families and our tribal nations across Indian Country. Calls to our own domestic violence response service in the Cherokee Nation have increased by more than 25% in the past year.
This increased need is why Cherokee Nation is investing in solutions that will assist our citizens who are vulnerable during normal times and particularly vulnerable right now. It is essential that Cherokees have a safe, secure place to go if they must flee an abusive situation.
To ensure that need is met, we recently shared our plans for a new ONE FIRE Victim Services headquarters in Tahlequah and new transitional housing in Stilwell. ONE FIRE, which stands for “Our Nation Ending Fear, Intimidation, Rape and Endangerment,” offers a variety of services, including legal advocacy, counseling and housing assistance to survivors within the tribe's 14-county reservation. ONE FIRE's mission is to empower survivors who are seeking aid and provide them the tools needed to safely rebuild their lives.
Additionally, we have shifted ONE FIRE from under the Cherokee Nation Human Services Department to our attorney general’s office, a move that will improve its capabilities with legal and law enforcement issues in domestic violence cases. These changes will allow us to do more outreach and education, as well as expand our collaborations with state, county and tribal courts and regional law enforcement to hold abusers accountable for their crimes.
So far this year, ONE FIRE has taken in 195 individuals and helped more than 420 domestic violence survivors with essentials like rental and utility payments, emergency food and clothing and safe overnight accommodations. ONE FIRE has also assisted well over 1,000 clients with other services, such as court assistance and legal services. That represents about a 25% increase in the past year.
The ONE FIRE staff is moving from the Cherokee Nation’s W.W. Keeler Tribal Complex to a nearby building that will be renovated to expand the program’s team and services. Remodeling a facility we already own enables us to quickly create a safe, welcoming space for domestic violence survivors away from our busy tribal complex. Each ONE FIRE advocate will have more private space for personal counseling and assistance, destigmatizing the feelings of shame survivors sometime feel when reaching out for help. At the new ONE FIRE center, the team will also be able to expand on cultural healing and life skills programs that have proven successful.
Funding for the ONE FIRE expansion comes from federal CARES Act dollars, something my administration has fought hard to secure for Cherokee Nation for this very reason.
In Adair County, the transitional living center site will be in a building the Cherokee Nation recently acquired and will soon be remodeled. We also plan to build three additional small homes for temporary family use on the premises. The primary shelter will include seven apartments, featuring a kitchen, living room and bedrooms. The facility will have a communal room, a children’s playroom and a classroom for counseling sessions. Our partner, the nonprofit Orchard Road Community Outreach, originally developed the site. It’s something the community of Stilwell and Adair County have envisioned for a very long time.
When the need for emergency housing arises here in northeast Oklahoma, we all too often face the same challenge: All the beds at area shelters are full and there is simply no place to go. At that point, individuals and families in need are stuck without options. ONE FIRE’s new transitional housing facility will offer survivors a housing opportunity and supportive services for up to one year, if needed. By taking on this endeavor, Cherokee Nation can provide survivors a safe place to go, and tribal citizens will not be solely dependent on assistance from non-Cherokee agencies.
First Lady January Hoskin challenged us to do more for survivors of domestic violence. That challenge has inspired these planned expansions, which we believe will have a positive ripple effect. By providing our staff and our people the facilities worthy of this important mission, and by expanding and enhancing services at the community level, we can then turn our focus on domestic violence prevention. Safety and stability for our Cherokee families will always be a top priority for this administration.
For more information on ONE FIRE Victim Services, visit onefire.cherokee.org or call 918-772-4260. To reach ONE FIRE’s emergency helpline, call 1-866-458-5399.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.