During the 10th annual National Behavioral Health Conference presented by the Indian Health Service, held in Bloomington, Minnesota this past June 25-28, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Domestic Violence Coalition won an award for its service to the Community. The award was one of six National Behavioral Health Achievement Awards, presented to tribal communities for their work on issues such as substance abuse prevention, suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention. The SRPMIC received the Achievement Award for Community Mobilization in Domestic Violence Prevention.
Salt River was nominated based on the work the coalition has done to revise the SRPMIC code to allow for better enforcement and prosecution of domestic violence, as well as its domestic violence prevention, education and outreach programs.
Vurlene Notsinneh-Bowekaty, a Community health educator in domestic violence, said it was nice to know that all the coalition’s hard work has been acknowledged. “Out of all the awards they give out, we were the only domestic violence program to receive this award,” she said proudly.
SRPMIC Serves as a Model
Many people were very impressed with the work of the SRPMIC Domestic Violence Coalition, and some conference attendees from other tribal communities asked Notsinneh-Bowekaty how we were able to get participation from the chief of police and Community judges, because in their communities they said that these officials wouldn’t give their domestic violence programs the time of day.
“After receiving this award, we were asked to make a presentation at the Phoenix IHS area conference,” said Notsinneh-Bowekaty. “We covered how we got started [with] the domestic violence [coalition], how we got funding to do this work, and how we reached each of the goals and objectives.
“We shared the statistics [of the domestic violence problem on the Community] and the input in changing the [SRPMIC] code in making Salt River a safer place for everyone.”
Other Native American communities are now looking for guidance from the SRPMIC to start their own domestic violence coalitions, she said. “We also have been asked to speak at the national conference next year.”
“People are impressed that we got a coalition together to talk about this issue and to have people [from] law enforcement [involved] in it as well,” said Alvaro Canez, Community Health Education manager. “It was apparent that those communities couldn’t get those players to the table that quickly.
“We are only as good as we are with everyone helping us, and I want to thank them,” Canez added.
The SRPMIC Domestic Violence Coalition meets twice a month to discuss and plan projects that will spread awareness about domestic violence and the toll it takes on families in the Community, as well as to teach prevention strategies.
“Our job is to work on teaching people and [school students] about domestic violence. We work with Behavioral Health, the Local Alcohol Reception Center program [LARC], and the students in seventh through ninth grades at the high school,” said Notsinneh-Bowekaty.
Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative
The Domestic Violence Coalition has been working hard for close to a year to build a strong foundation for preventing domestic violence here in the Community and work with victims. The Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative is funded through a prevention grant, and its main focus is to revise the current domestic violence prevention code and to conduct prevention and awareness work in the Community and in the schools.
The initial changes to the code added teen dating violence and stalking under domestic violence offenses, but when the coalition formed, more people from different departments started adding suggestions, such as victims’ rights, Canez said.
“We have been doing a lot of work with many departments, such as Senior Services, LARC and Behavioral Health, and with the schools on health education and also bullying education [in younger grades], and then this year the schools want to us to continue this program,” said Canez.
With the domestic violence code, Notsinneh-Bowekaty said they were very fortunate to have the Community’s chief judge, chief of police and chief prosecutor on their team. The coalition began with eight members and now has 22.
Debbie Manuel, one of the first counselors for domestic violence and sexual assault victims in the Community, said the early draft of proposed code changes for domestic violence “went through a lot of people and eventually just got lost, and now everyone has come together and is giving input and giving it a strong foundation.
“Now that the process is working for the coalition, it’s making things easier and people are becoming very aware,” said Manuel.
“I think from my part, we have to deal with [domestic violence cases] on a consistent basis. I see it all the time,” said Chief Judge Ryan Andrews. “And from my point of view, and as well as the other judges, there needs to be some changes made [to the Community code]. [We] see that it’s been in the process [of being changed].
“We don’t like to see [domestic violence], but when we do see it, it’s always good to know that we do have these [domestic violence classes and other] programs available,” said Andrews.