Protecting women and children from violence within the Cherokee Nation Reservation is a deeply personal cause for First Lady January Hoskin and me. Likewise, the Cherokee Nation tribal government has a solemn duty to protect safety and ensure justice across our 14-county reservation.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and it is an excellent time to reinforce our tribe’s commitment to combatting domestic violence and helping survivors in ways that are sensitive, timely and, most of all, effective.
We already have one of Indian Country’s most innovative programs in place: the ONE FIRE Victim Services office. ONE FIRE, which stands for Our Nation Ending Fear, Intimidation, Rape, and Endangerment, serves the immediate needs of survivors in their time of crisis and assists them in healing. ONE FIRE’s staff represent the best values of the Cherokee Nation, with an emphasis on wellness, culture and family. They provide comprehensive services and access to resources, including law enforcement protection, legal analysis, housing aid, job placement, educational needs, health care and counseling, Over the past year, ONE FIRE has supported 334 new clients and continues serving another 200 clients from the previous year.
Last year, to extend ONE FIRE’s reach, we relocated their headquarters to a more secure location in Tahlequah and invested millions of dollars in a new transitional living center in Stilwell, which will be operational soon. We recently secured a multimillion-dollar federal grant that we can use to do even more for victims of domestic violence.
I am proud of the ONE FIRE staff who are transforming the way we understand and respond to domestic violence. These women and men come to work every day, and oftentimes after hours, to assist survivors through some of their most harrowing life experiences.
To build on this work, I recently signed an executive order creating the Task Force to Protect Women and Families. This 11-member group of community and tribal leaders will review Cherokee Nation’s current policies for helping domestic violence victims and their families. They will also develop recommendations to improve these strategies for the future.
The executive order also requires Cherokee Nation employees to self-disclose any arrests, active protective orders, warrants and criminal charges. The self-disclosure must be made to the tribe within 48 hours, and failure to do so will result in disciplinary action, including termination. Additionally, it requires training for employees to recognize, prevent and report domestic violence.
The Cherokee people are counting on us to end domestic violence on our reservation. We must not only provide pathways to safety for victims and the support needed to rebuild their lives but also, just as importantly, we must hold perpetrators accountable and prosecute abusers.
Since March, more than 400 cases have been filed in Cherokee Nation District Court involving domestic violence, threats of violence, kidnapping or sexual violence. We continue to expand our courts, hire new staff and focus on bringing justice to those who need it most.
This executive order and our task force’s recommendations will improve our efforts on all these fronts. Without question, I believe the steps we are taking today will save lives.
Yet, as the leader of the largest Indian nation in the United States, I know that it is not enough. We must challenge ourselves by continually asking tough questions about what we can do better. That is why I signed the executive order creating the Task Force to Protect Women and Families, and that is why I will continue to push for improvements until domestic violence rates are drastically reduced across the Cherokee Nation Reservation.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.