Williams’ work against domestic violence earns 7 Feathers honor
OMAHA, Neb. – In the U.S. lives a specific population that faces a significantly higher danger of domestic violence.
The results of a study, published in 2016, by the National Institute of Justice suggested that 84 percent of Native American women experience violence during their lives, with more than half being subjected to violence by a spouse or intimate partner. Two-thirds reported being the targets of psychological aggression. By comparison, the rates of violence, rape and stalking suffered by the general population amount to about 35 percent of women and 28 percent of men. More than 90 percent of Natives report at least one experience of violence committed by non-Natives.
It is a combination of personal experience and the sobering data that drew Kirby Williams into the struggle against violence within the Native community.
“I am personally a survivor of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Williams said. “I always wanted to give back to the Native populations. Part of the healing was to give back any way I could. When I moved to Nebraska, I was surprised to find a prominent tribal population up here. I’ve found a passion for not letting this happen to other people, and I don’t want them to feel as lost as I was when navigating the resources and agencies.”
Williams is the Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Native American Program outreach coordinator. She raises awareness and promotes prevention of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and stalking against Native Americans. She is the recipient of the Cherokee Phoenix Seven Feathers Award for Community.
Her job can be difficult, but Williams said the toughest work is done by the direct services advocates, who deal daily with those in need of help.
“I work to raise awareness and prevention of violence, stalking and sexual assault against Native Americans in Nebraska and at the national level,” Williams said. “I organize training, education events. I travel to talk with state and federal agencies – looking at cultural and historical trauma, the history of violence against Native people, and working to support indigenous people.”
Most of the Seven Feathers honorees live within the Cherokee Nation’s 14-county jurisdiction, while Williams lives in Nebraska. She still makes it home frequently to visit family in the Grove area, and she tries to visit each Labor Day weekend for the Cherokee National Holiday.
Williams said her heritage is instrumental in her work, and helped her heal.
“I’m glad to have grown up with access to the Cherokee culture – I’m also trying to learn as much of the language as I can,” she said. “I was instilled with a sense of pride and my parents raised us to be proud of who we are, and to be involved with the tribe. When healing from my trauma – when my healing really took off was when I went back to those foundational teachings. Women are sacred. We are a matriarchal tribe. Women are to held in respect. When I work with women in other tribes, I know that our culture is our strength and we are a resilient people. That early upbringing and being involved with the tribe as much as possible helped instill that strength and essence, and I know we will move forward.”
The Seven Feathers award was not something anticipated by Williams, and she expressed her appreciation for her work being noticed.
“When I got the email, I started to tear up,” she said. “It’s an honor to be nominated – someone feels like the work I am doing is important and deserves recognition. I am also humbled because we are the largest tribe in the U.S., and it’s important to be recognized by your own people, and to make them proud. I am very honored, thankful and grateful for everything the Nation has given me, and the fight continues. We will continue to work to raise awareness.”