They just live with it because there is no safe place for them to go here on Pine Ridge,” said Kim Clausen, executive director ofWild Horse Butte Community Development Corporation in Martin, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
There has been no shelter for domestic violence victims on Pine Ridge since Cangleska Inc., a Sioux tribal chartered organization closed over six years ago. The shelter closed due to mismanagement of federal funds; victims of domestic violence on this vast reservation must now find their way to shelters located hours away on the Rosebud Reservation or Rapid City and elsewhere.
According to Norma Rendon, acting director of Oglala Tribe Victim Services, her staff of four are kept constantly busy transporting victims to safety in these far away shelters. “Transporting a victim and her family to a shelter takes an entire day for one of my staff,” Rendon reported.
The prospect of traveling so far into unfamiliar territory and far from social support systems is too unsettling for many victims. This effectively prevents many from seeking help according to Clausen.
The death of a young Oglala woman on Pine Ridge on April 30, 2015 was a glaring example of the dangers of domestic violence on the reservation. According to Native Sun News, Jessie Waters had petitioned the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court on April 7, 2015 for a protection order against her partner, Duane Benson. Benson was later arrested in connection with Water’s death. Water’s family members and supporters marched on tribal government offices calling for action in the case and to bring attention to high rates of domestic violence on Pine Ridge according to KDLT News.
According to the National Violence Against Women Survey, 37.5 percent Native women are victimized by intimate partner violence in their lifetime, making them among the highest rates compared with other ethnicities.
Desperate to address the need for a shelter, Wild Horse Butte members worked with the community to organize the Sacred Shawl Society, a grassroots non profit organization that has leased a building and outfitted a haven for domestic violence victims.
Although the shelter is ready to open and is equipped to serve up to 20 people, the organization lacks final funding to pay 24-hour staff to supervise the location. “We have worked so hard, putting together monies and donations from various public and private organizations to address this need in our community. It’s frustrating that we are so close yet so far away from our final goal, “ said Clausen.
The Sacred Shawl Society is an example of genuine community involvement in addressing its problems and needs according to Clausen. “Community members indicated that prevention of sexual and domestic violence and keeping victims safe was a primary concern,” Clausen said.
According to 2012 Oglala Sioux tribal public safety statistics as reported by Wild Horse Butte, 130 women, 5 men and 422 children were placed in off reservation shelters. There were 1,377 reported cases of domestic violence/sexual violence in 2012 that included 904 assaults, 76 rapes, 6 abductions, 162 protection orders and 365 resulting hospitalizations. The Oglala Victims Services crisis hotline received 1,246 requests for emergency shelter.
According to Clausen, however, the data represents only those who actually report such crimes.
“Many victims have stopped reporting after finding no help is available. The actual number of domestic violence incidents may be double or triple,” Clausen said.
“Our people finally realized that we can’t wait for the tribe to fix all our problems. We need to step up and work together. That’s what we did here in the LaCreek District,” she said.
The Wild Horse Butte CDC was created by members of the LaCreek District, located in the south central area of the Pine Ridge reservation. Members of the organization helped determine top community needs that, in addition to addressing violence, included creating greater access to health care. The CDC recently opened the $1.2 million LaCreek District Medical Clinic. The funding for the clinic was part of an Indian Self-determination contract awarded to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and contracted to Wild Horse Butte which then contracted with Indian Health Service to staff the clinic. Before the Clinic’s opening in May 2015, local community members seeking health care had to make a 100 mile round trip to the nearest Indian Health Care facility.
Community members who volunteer with the Sacred Shawl Society began working on creating a shelter for domestic violence victims about a year ago. They worked with the Oglala Lakota Sioux Housing Authority to lease a building and spend many months doing repairs, organizing donations of furniture, household items and other items that shelter clients might needs.
‘We got most of the furniture from rummage sales and donations, but it’s all good and it’s clean and ready to use,’ Clausen said.
The newly created and named, LaCreek District Shelter is now ready to open. “We can open as soon as we are able to pay staff. We are hoping that some grant money may come through soon,” she said. “Until then we are just praying really hard.”