Story by: Jonah Lossiah and One Feather Staff

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s (EBCI) Integrated Domestic Violence Intervention Program is halfway through its three-year grant, and there has been plenty to learn along the way.

Bonnie Claxton, the manager of the EBCI Legal Assistance Office, has been one of the leaders of this project. She and Hannah Smith, the senior associate Attorney General, drafted the original grant in 2017.

“The Tribe has many resources for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Claxton.  “But, as is true in lots of communities, there could have been more communication between the agencies.”

This project has been gotten all the stakeholders working together. The head of each agency associated with domestic violence meets monthly to discuss data and the current system of the Tribe as in place.

It is also funding trips to learn how different cities and counties handle domestic violence across the state. In May, a group went down to Guilford County to see their set-up.

A primary reason for choosing Guilford County was EBCI Judge Randle Jones. He practiced law there for nearly 30 years and was a judge in the county from 2014-17.

“Guilford County was one of the pilot programs for e-filing…dealing with domestic violence,” said Judge Jones.

He said that it was good for everyone on the trip to see a system that has been in place for multiple years.

“The collaborative effort is the real key to that working well. [The Tribe] collaborates a lot already among the different agencies.”

An e-filing system is something that this current grant is working to improve on the boundary. Smith was at her current position while working with two grants prior, those being to rework the system of juvenile services and child welfare.

“We’ve designed a new way of doing business when it comes to domestic violence cases. That new way of doing business is that there are individual case reviews with all the stakeholders around the table. We based it off the model for juvenile services and child welfare.”

Viewing other systems was a significant part of the trip, and almost everyone who attended was left talking about the Family Justice Centers in Guilford County.

It is not uncommon for a survivor of domestic violence to be bounced around to every department, having to recite their story each time. These family justice centers attempt to flip that idea and put all the agencies under one roof.

“The one in High Point, I think they said it has 17 partners,” Claxton said.  “Not all of those are on site, but most of them are. So, when you’re a survivor, you show up to this one place instead of being kicked around from agency to agency, you sit in one room, and all the agency people come to you – it’s amazing.”

“I was like ‘wow,’” said Marsha Jackson, the manager of the EBCI Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Program.  “Being a victim, myself, I know what it’s like to go through those processes and to just feel defeated and want to quit…I just think it provided good support for families that are going through those things.”

Not only was the group impressed by the centers, but Guilford County’s numbers also speak for themselves.

“When it started in 2015, Guilford County had the highest rate of deaths as a result of domestic violence,” said Judge Jones.  “In 2018, they had zero. So, it’s definitely an indication that that type of system works.”

Jackson says she is doing everything she can to get funding for a family justice center on the boundary. She is currently finding a location for a domestic violence shelter, which has funding from a grant that was approved in 2012. However, she is hopeful that if the money is spent intelligently, there could be enough to fund both programs.

With this current grant being halfway through its timeline, Claxton said that she is delighted with the progress that has been made so far.

“Domestic violence is a really complicated issue, and the Tribe’s response to it is just one part of it. It’s not like even if the Tribe worked perfectly, it could completely fix the problem, but I think that everybody is really committed to rowing the same way and working together,” she said.

Claxton and several others will be taking a trip to another family justice center at the end of June, this time in Buncombe County. The program will also be holding training for trauma-informed care on June 3, and that event is open to the public.

Read the original story here.