Cherokee Nation to open victim advocacy office, transitional center
TAHLEQUAH – To kick off National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Cherokee Nation unveiled plans for a new ONE FIRE Victim Services headquarters in Tahlequah and transitional housing in Stilwell.
The CN’s legal and advocacy program for women, which stands for Our Nation Ending Fear, Intimidation, Rape and Endangerment, will move from its location inside the Tribal Complex to a nearby building on the other side of Muskogee Avenue, leaders said Oct. 1. Also, a transitional living center will be established inside an existing building on Blackjack Street in Stilwell, with future plans for homes on the property.
“We are so excited, absolutely excited,” ONE FIRE Director Shawna Duch said at the new office site. “When chief let me know that we’d be moving over here, I thought that’d be the perfect place for us. We like our clients to come into a home-type environment rather than clinical or more business office. This is going to be perfect.”
The tribe’s advocacy program offers help to those who qualify and reside within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction.
“So far this year 2020, we are up to 175 new intakes,” Duch said. “We have over 400 monetary services to victims. That means we pay 400 rents, utilities, things of that nature, water bills, electric bills, emergency groceries, emergency clothing. As far as referrals and other services that are non-monetary, we are well over 1,000.”
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the ONE FIRE move coincides with an organizational shift from Human Services to the Attorney General’s Office.
“A lot of what the Attorney General’s Office does, and I think will increasingly do, is dealing with domestic violence incidents,” he said. “That will mean connecting them with services, which the help for that is ONE FIRE. Remodeling this facility, which we currently own, will enable us to create a very safe place, a very welcoming place for victims of domestic violence away from the complex, where there’s a great deal of traffic, but close enough to where, if there are other services we need to connect with, it’s not too far away.”
The transitional housing site in Stilwell features an existing building that will be remodeled, but the CN’s plan is to also add three, three-bedroom homes behind that facility. The Stilwell housing project was made possible through efforts of the Adair County representatives on the Tribal Council, Canaan Duncan and Shawn Crittenden, along with the nonprofit Orchard Road Community Outreach organization and CN first lady January Hoskin.
“It’s a pretty proud moment,” Duncan said. “I know it’s something the community has envisioned for a very long time through Orchard Road and other folks that have talked about it and brought it up. So I applaud the chief, I applaud the first lady, the deputy chief and the cabinet, as well as my fellow councilman. It wouldn’t be possible without all of us working together.”
Hoskin said his wife “encouraged us early on to do more in the area of domestic violence prevention, provide more services and get services out into the community.”
“It was really important to me that people have a place to go when they need to flee abusive situations,” January Hoskin said. “Too often, when they have this need, beds are full, there’s no place for them to go, they get turned out into the streets. Now, because we are doing this, Cherokee women in need will have a place to go because we are not dependent on other people. It’s really important to me as a mother of Cherokee children, grandmother of Cherokee grandchildren, that we could do this while my husband’s in office.”
Funding for the ONE FIRE projects comes from federal CARES Act, CN officials said.
“We’re spending some money right now for the Cherokee people using some federal dollars that we worked really hard for under the CARES Act,” the chief said, adding that domestic violence “is unfortunately on the rise” due to the pandemic. “We hate that that’s the case, but we know that’s the case. This is also very much a part of our response to the COVID pandemic and the things that unfortunately go along with that.”
The ONE FIRE emergency helpline is 1-866-458-5399.
Also on Oct. 1, CN leaders met in Briggs at the W.E.B. (Welling, Eldon and Briggs) Community Center to celebrate the installation of solar panels. The initiative is part of the chief’s push for green energy at CN community buildings.
The nonprofit Tri-Community W.E.B. Association has been operating out of the community center in partnership with the CN since fall 2016.