Courtesy Home for Women and Children
Poster’s created at the now shuttered Home for Women and Children in Shiprock, New Mexico.

Addressing Shiprock’s Domestic Violence Shelter Situation

Frances Madeson

The closure of the Home for Women and Children, a domestic violence shelter in Shiprock, New Mexico, was foreseen months before the facility was shuttered for tax delinquency on March 30.

According to Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Crotty, who serves on the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, stakeholders began planning for an emergency temporary shelter, and a new and improved permanent shelter.

The shelter was operated by a subcontracted entity that was not part of the Navajo Nation, and according to Crotty there was no authority by which they could intervene to fix the managerial problems. “It’s unfortunate, because the service was top-notch.”

The Navajo Nation allocated money to four other service providers in the surrounding area, who are absorbing the clients who would have been served in Shiprock. Additionally, individuals who would typically make referrals for shelter and counseling—Indian Health Service physicians, therapists and law enforcement personnel—have all been informed about the availability of these stop-gap services. “It’s a delicate matter,” said Crotty. Because the locations of shelters are not made public for the safety of the clients, the communications from the Division of Social Services were in many cases made face to face by its sole staff member assigned to these issues. Some members of the community are therefore not yet aware of the alternate plans that have been put in place. “Our priority is to serve our citizens so they know they have somewhere safe to go with their children, and to counter any perception that services are not available.”

Duane Chili Yazzie, President of the Shiprock Chapter of the Navajo Nation, says he, Crotty, and 19 people representing various agencies, including the Shiprock Planning Commission, a larger circle of service providers, as well as individual concerned citizens from the Sisters’ Circle, a women’s support and empowerment group, have already come together to work on solutions.

“The women of the Sisters’ Circle jumped on the idea of helping to reopen an emergency shelter,” explained Shirley Montoya, a retired United Methodist minister who administers the drop-in Wellness Center in Shiprock where the Sisters’ Circle is based. This effort is in alignment with the group’s community-oriented mission to move members towards a better future. The present, however, is full of painful realities.

“The battering continues,” said Montoya. “And in the meanwhile victims have to go off the reservation to find refuge.” She described a less than ideal situation for the women seeking help because “on top of being a victim, they’re also separated from their extended families.”

According to Yazzie a building that could serve as a temporary shelter has been identified. “We just have to go through the legal considerations—securing the lease, other required paperwork.”

“In my dream scenario it would already be open,” said Crotty. “But we’re hoping that everything winds up within the next few weeks.”

Crotty is spearheading the effort to obtain additional funding. “We do have a partner who has a small lump sum of money available, beds and resources, and we’re confident that pretty quickly we’ll have local capacity again in Shiprock.”

But Crotty has concerns about long-term sustainability and is using this moment of emergency as an opportunity to open up a wider much needed conversation. “Federal funding for these kinds of programs has been cut over the last 10 years by 50 percent,” she explained. “And only half of the funding promised by the Violence Against Women Act has been allocated. We would like a commitment from our federal partners.” Toward that aim, she’s setting up a briefing for U.S. Senatorial staff in the coming days to explain the need and ask for their help in identifying and securing additional resources.

Anthony Lee, Program Coordinator at the Shiprock Wellness Center, is also on the task force working to re-open a shelter, which he says is “needed in a bad way.” He works with a group of young men teaching them precepts from the Navajo Wellness Model, which offers traditional family values including the Diné concept of parenting. “We have morning and evening, daylight and night-time, none above, none below. Men and women need each other for growth to happen.” This model emphasizes the importance of women’s role as “lifeline” and the need to treat women with respect. “Both sides have to be equal; we’re imparting these concepts. The model’s aim is toward restructuring relationships, not necessarily leaving them.”

Dii nahŁaa is a ceremony of self-forgiveness and apology to one’s body for allowing it to be abused by oneself or others. Lee explained that the healing ceremony uses tobacco, traditional songs of empowerment, and herbs. Its purpose is to counteract the normalization of the violence. “One of the rules by tradition is that when a soldier returns from war the uniform must be shed, discarded.” In Lee’s view some of the battered women are psychologically addicted to the relationships, and think their abusers are gods. “We teach that each of us has our own god within ourselves.”

Lee has only praise for the great job the women in the Sisters’ Circle are doing getting local support for the shelter, and takes a small measure of pride in their accomplishments.

“I’m so glad that I’m a part of this effort with my sisters,” he said.

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