MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 27, 2013

Programs will be hurt if bill fails

Loss of VAWA funds would have impact on groups who battle domestic violence

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Losing funding for Violence Against Women Act would greatly impact local programs that serve women, officials said.

Congress failed to pass a reauthorization of the act in 2012 that would have extended the act’s ability to provide federal funding to domestic violence programs across the country.

The reauthorization bill has been introduced again in the Senate and the House.

For Muskogee and surrounding areas, if the act isn’t reauthorized and major funding is lost, some victims of domestic violence could be left out in the cold.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the tribe is hopeful the reauthorization will pass.

“Our leadership in D.C. should be commended for making VAWA a top priority in the next Congressional session,” Baker said. “The Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country is eager to have the act reauthorized with provisions that will allow tribal governments to better protect and serve our citizens.”

Shawn Partridge, manager at the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for the Family Violence Prevention Program, said VAWA funds provide services for not only Native Americans in the area, but also for non-Natives.

“We receive two grants that significantly fund our program,” Partridge said. “And with that funding, not only are we providing services to tribal members, but also non-Indians as well. We also contribute resources to non-tribal programs such as WISH there in Muskogee.”

Women in Safe Home (WISH) operates a 60-bed women’s shelter, providing victims of domestic violence a place to live and heal.

The Creek Nation uses federal funds to assist WISH in its mission, Partridge said.

“For example, our staff today was able to use federal funding to purchase new furniture for the shelter there at WISH,” she said Friday. “We have a therapist that goes there once a week and provides group counseling to women at WISH as well.”

Evelyn Hibbs, executive director of WISH, said the shelter also receives VAWA funding and would be hard hit if it was lost.

“We’ve lost money the last two or three years, and we can’t continue to keep losing,” Hibbs said. “It would impact all of Oklahoma. We have 27 domestic violence and sexual assault programs and three tribal programs in Oklahoma, and all could be hurt by VAWA funding loss.”

Joni Greenhaw, program coordinator for Cherokee Nation Office of the Attorney General Domestic Violence Services said the Cherokee Nation also uses its funding for all victims of domestic violence, not just Native Americans.

“We were awarded a grant from the Department of Justice in 2010 that provides full programs for domestic violence, sexual assaults, stalking and dating violence,” Greenhaw said. “The importance of us as a tribe wanting to maintain this funding is because this also allows us to serve non-Indians and other tribal members, not only Cherokees.”

Greenhaw said a major loss of federal funding will greatly restrict the programs already in place.

“If we happen to get our funding cut, it would cut our programs, because if we had to rely on tribal money we would only be able to serve Cherokees,” she said.

Cherrah Giles, secretary of the Department of Community and Human Services for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation said the Creek Nation supports the VAWA reauthorization bill.

“Our tribe even passed a tribal resolution that we sent to Congress last session saying we believe in this act,” Giles said. “We had a 36-mile relay to deliver the resolution to our congressman in Tulsa.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.