Daphne Joe, Wellness Coordinator, Statement, Asa’carsarmiut Tribe, Mountain Village, Alaska
Annual 2019 Tribal Consultation Under the Violence Against Women Act
Waqaa, my name is Daphne Joe. My Yup’ik name is Chagiiksnaq after an old man from Emmonak. The English translation of Chagiiksnaq is “wood carpenter.” My first language is Yup’ik.
Today I speak on behalf of the Asa’carsarmiute Indian tribe of Alaska. We will submit our final written testimony in the coming weeks. Our tribe supports the concerns and recommendations raised by the National Congress of American Indians.
I work under our tribe’s Department of Justice Program, as the Wellness Coordinator. Before that, I worked with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) for 4 years fighting for our children and families who are under the Office of Children Services with the state of Alaska. Our tribal Department of Justice Program also has Tribal Courts and Tribal Police since October 2017.
There are many barriers our tribe faces in creating safety for Native women. I will only talk about one of these barriers, and the others will be covered in the written statement our tribe submits to OVW.
I would like to share with you the challenge women face because we have no safe shelter in our village.
The population of Mountain Village is about 855 people. With the community growing, there are families that are overcrowded. Some have multiple families living under one roof. This overcrowding can cause a lot of family issues such as fighting, arguing, emotional and physical abused. Because of this, we have had families apply for housing out of our community who have moved out of Mountain Village. These families, after moving, cannot participate in their seasonal subsistence way of life. They lose their culture when they move away. This loss of culture causes many other problems in their lives.
Safe housing is a basic need of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
In our village, safe housing is an urgent need because of our climate. The months of December, January, February, and March are the coldest times of the year. Temperatures reach -40 below, and windchill can reach up to -60 below. Imagine being out in the cold with your kids because you were getting away from domestic violence or being sexually abused. It is a terrible reality that women and children face because they have no other option, no other place to go, no other house is available. Our women and children should not be out in the cold or have no place to go because they are being abused.
I am a survivor of Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse. I grew up in a small house, sharing one bedroom with no water or sewer. My parents drank alcohol most of my childhood life. I’ve seen my parents fight, and my dad fighting with others. I was violated by a drunk adult at a young age and was a young mother to my siblings. Because of all I witnessed, I don’t remember a lot of my childhood life.
I also experienced domestic violence myself with the father of my kids. I would think over and over that he would change, but everything just got worse the longer I stayed with him. I still remember how I felt. I was scared, thinking that my kids won’t have a mother. It took me weeks, months, a year to recover from the abuse I went through.
The more I dealt with abuse, the quieter I became, the more afraid I became. This fear is something I will never forget, and I think it is how all victims/survivors feel. Women often leave what is bothering them and don’t heal the correct way but instead make it worse by drinking. Before I started working with the Wellness Program, I didn’t know what I was doing but only started understanding by reading the grants narrative.
Services are needed for victims of domestic violence.
I started what is called a “Group Gathering” for victims/survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse, and stalking or who have a drinking problem, to come together to share their experiences of abuse or addiction. Many of the women didn’t know other women in our community were going through the same thing. The Group Gathering made it easier for them to talk to others about their experiences and that is a way of healing. Everyone heals differently by crying, screaming, and even laughing. It’s not easy for victims to talk about what they went through right away, so the more Group Gatherings they attend, the easier it becomes for them to feel comfortable to start the healing process.
In 4 months, I’ve had mothers come to my home odd hours of the night because they had no place to go to get away from their abuser. Our Tribal Police cannot make any arrests without the help of the Village Police Officers because we don’t have a holding cell, and the community does not have any dispatchers for people to report abuse. Like in other villages, many crimes go unreported. The closest shelters for Women and Children to our tribe are in Bethel and Emmonak. To get to these shelters you must fly. With little funding, mothers and children can wait up to a week just to get in.
Since my grandpa moved and has to be by the hospital, he deeded his house to me. Since I had extra rooms and bedding, I became a safe home representative, even if the condition of the home is very bad. I have no running water, and the hot water heater doesn’t work anymore. I still allow women to come to my home for safety, even if I have no security for the victim, and also put my family at risk.
We ask you as representatives of the federal government, to understand how and why the history of violence against women in our village. Traditionally we are a culture based on respect and abuse was not tolerated. But today many of our challenges are legal challenges because of federal laws. Today, we do not have services and other programs due to the lack of resources.
I have no choice that I was born Native, a Yupik Native from Alaska. My people survived and learned to live off the land and waters. They were knowledgeable with the harsh winters and understand what needs to be done for their families. We were civil in our way of life. We were never uneducated because we were educated to know our surroundings and to respect one another and love one another. My people felt pain and saw our own die from smallpox, influenza, and all the diseases. I see the pain my people went through.
We are still in the process of learning who we are now. Please understand we have to learn two worlds now. Imagine if I invade your home and order you on how to live your life. Imagine if I made you speak only Yup’ik and punish you if you spoke any English, degrade you on how your way of life was wrong, and mine was correct. That is how my grandparent’s generation lived. I watch my people literally die from alcoholism, not because their alcoholics, but because they mourned over these changes.
We are still healing from historical trauma, by having a Women and Children Shelter, we can reduce the violence in our community and help educate the perpetrators, for our women and children to feel safe.
The federal programs providing resources must be based on our tribal way of life. Federal resources can help us but not by changing who we are, but by supporting who we are as Yup’ik people, who we are as Alaska Natives. English is not our first language. Competition is not our way of life. In the future please make tribal VAWA and VOCA grants non-competitive.
Please recognize our ways of life. Recognize our traditional approach to justice. Recognize Alaska tribes are governments with the authority to protect women and respond to domestic violence according to our Native ways. Each village has its own ways and history. Victims will be best served when we create services for our tribe based on our ways of life.
I want to thank everyone here today, the representatives of the federal departments and also the representatives of tribal nations. Government-to-government consultation is a very important process. It is needed to reach a common understanding of the changes needed to remove the barriers preventing Indian tribes from protecting women.