October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Health Education Domestic Violence Prevention Initiative hosted its kickoff event at the Community Building on the evening of October 1.
Families and individuals attended the dinner and program to hear staff and guest speakers advocate, educate and collaborate as they work toward ending domestic violence in the Community.
Lehi’s Lynwood Vest opened with a prayer, and SRPMIC President Diane Enos welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending.
“We need to put a stop to violence, and we also need to pay attention,” said Enos. “Even people in high places [suffer from or perpetrate domestic violence], as well as older people, and we all need to stop and look at ourselves.”
Enos also took a few minutes to inform people about the Violence Against Women Act, and how non-Indian persons who have committed domestic violence offenses on the Community have gotten away with it because the Community had no jurisdiction over them. But the times and rules are changing, and with the Violence Against Women Act, perpetrators of domestic violence on tribal lands across the country, whether they are Native or not, need to understand that they can be prosecuted. To ensure non-Native offenders can get a fair trial by a jury of their peers in the Community, Enos said a process is being worked on to include non-Native persons in the jury pool.
The evening’s guest speaker was John Tsosie of Walking the Healing Path, a business he started 10 years ago to help people heal from domestic violence. He was once both a victim and perpetrator of domestic violence, and not very proud of it. He decided to make a positive change, and encouraged everyone to do the same. “You can always turn a negative into a positive,” said Tsosie to the crowd.
A dinner was served for the families and entertainment was provided by Bird Singing and Dancing by the River. Vest, who is the head of that group, talked about how violence was never part of the Piipaash tradition, and how even after members went to war or battle, they always came back with an open heart and open mind.
“We do not need violence in the Community,” he said.
Community member Elaina Osife shared her story. Unfortunately, domestic violence has been part of her life from childhood to adulthood, she said. “It was something I was comfortable with because I witnessed it with my parents, grandparents and even my own relationships,” said Osife.
She said even though there is shame and embarrassment that goes along with domestic violence, “we are only human, and we can learn from it.”
She talked about how she attended different groups in hopes of gaining back trust and love from her children. She said she had pain for her children and prayed that they would not exhibit the same behavior.
“I really just wanted to be loved, so I found myself going back into the domestic violence relationships, relationships that seemed as if it were two trains coming at each other preparing to collide,” said Osife. Relationships that almost killed her.
“Finally, my eyes were opened and quickly I learned how to grow stronger, make changes, let go and forgive,” said Osife. “These relationships do not have to be forever; it’s up to you to make that change.
“When you see me today, I am always happy and I am always smiling, and it’s because I am a survivor and I changed.”
The next speaker was Community member Pam Garcia, who talked about her experience with an abusive boyfriend.
“I was a little bit scared to tell my story,” said Garcia, “because it brought all the bad memories back to me.”
Her boyfriend was very controlling and demanded that she do everything he wanted. He even demanded that they dress alike. “I found myself constantly trying to make him happy, but then the relationship began to get violent,” said Garcia. Her boyfriend stabbed her. “He said he was sorry and that he would change, and I always fell for it.”
Garcia left the relationship, but she soon found herself becoming an alcoholic. “It eased my pain. But I wanted more, so I went to rehab and also found religion.”
She said women should be thankful just to be here to tell their stories, because many women didn’t survive the violence committed by their spouses or boyfriends. “No one should ever live with violence. I am very thankful that I can be here to tell my story, because there are still women out there being abused, as well as men too. It’s my choice to live violence-free, and everyone has that choice,” said Garcia.
The event ended with information on upcoming events to support domestic violence prevention and encouraging everyone to spread awareness about domestic violence and the resources in the Community that are available to help.