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Cherokee Nation opens new shelter for those experiencing domestic violence

Courtesy Cherokee Nation
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. and Deputy Chief Bryan Warner joined members of the Cherokee Nation Administration, Council of the Cherokee Nation, ONE FIRE Victim Services staff, and local and state leaders to celebrate the opening of a new domestic violence shelter in Stilwell

The Cherokee Nation celebrated the opening of a new domestic violence shelter in Stilwell on Tuesday, Dec. 20, to help families and children who suffer at the hands of violence.

The 11,000-square foot shelter and three additional transitional houses will house up to 10 families.

Oklahoma has one of the highest rates of domestic violence rates in the nation. According to statistics provided by the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, 40% of women in the state have experienced some form of intimate partner violence, rape or stalking.

Across the 14-county area within the Cherokee Nation reservation, the statistics have doubled since last year, according to Deb Proctor, who works for Cherokee Nation's ONE FIRE Victim Services Program. Proctor has been a nurse and worked in health care and nursing for more than 46 years.

Cherokee Nation has 797 clients across their reservation. In 2021, ONE FIRE served 440 total, Proctor said.

"So you can see how it's grown exponentially," Proctor said. Adair County ranks third within the Cherokee Nation for the number of calls where people need services, she said.

The new shelter in Stilwell, Oklahoma will provide families with transitional, safe shelter and other services like help finding a job, mental health care and other needs when families have their life upended by intimate partner violence. Proctor said those other services are needed when people are trying to get back on their feet.

Cherokee Nation ONE FIRE logo
Courtesy Cherokee Nation
Cherokee Nation ONE FIRE logo

"There's a mixture of not only domestic violence, but weaved throughout that is alcoholism, substance abuse, addiction, homelessness, mental health issues," she said. "And so it requires additional resources, you know, maybe counseling." 

Proctor said every client ONE FIRE serves is different-some simply need gas to simply drive away from a situation, while others need some of the basics-like clothes and toiletry items or diapers and formula.

Earlier this year, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. reauthorized the Housing, Jobs and Sustainable Communities Act, which included $10 million for emergency shelters like the one built in Stilwell. Cherokee Nation officials said in the coming years, the tribal nation will build more shelters like the one opened on Tuesday.

"What this facility does is allows us to control the environment a bit more in terms of safety," said Hoskin Jr. who thinks this could be a model, given the size of the problem of domestic violence.

"This is certainly a strong start," Hoskin Jr. told KOSU.

In January 2022, Hoskin Jr. signed an executive order to re-establish the tribe’s Task Force to Protect Women and Families, which implemented new policies across Cherokee Nation government to address domestic violence and support survivors.

Those policies included requirements that tribal government employees self-disclose arrests and active protective orders as well as require training for employees to recognize, prevent and report domestic violence. This came after a physician who worked for the Cherokee Nation was arrested for first-degree murder. It was later revealed that he had a history of domestic violence.

The Cherokee Nation does have transitional housing in Tahlequah for those who are victims of domestic violence, and they're looking for more properties to purchase and rehab throughout their 14-county reservation.

A reauthorized version of the Violence Against Women Act took effect in October. This strengthened the ability for tribal nations throughout the country to arrest non-Natives when they commit domestic violence crimes like assault, sexual assault and child abuse against Native people within the reservation boundaries.

The Cherokee Nation ONE FIRE Victim Services program can be contacted by phone at 918-772-4260 or emailing one-fire@cherokee.org during normal business hours. The program’s emergency helpline is 1-866-458-5399.


Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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