Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ponca Tribe Gets Grant To Battle Elder Abuse

NIOBRARA, Neb. — Andrea Rodriguez has seen tribal elders, held in great respect by the Native American culture, also subjected to abuse.

In that respect, elder abuse cuts across racial lines and knows no color.

Rodriguez has worked with a variety of cases as the domestic violence program coordinator for the Ponca Tribe. The tribe doesn’t have a reservation, but its service area includes Knox County, Nebraska.

“We’ve been seeing an average of about six cases of elder abuse a year, most of it for financial exploitation,” Rodriguez said.

“We’ve also seen emotional, physical, sexual and even spiritual abuse. The elders are a vulnerable population.”

The Ponca Tribe recently received a $17,148 Elder Abuse Innovation Grant Award. The non-renewable grant allows the tribe to address elder abuse throughout its 15-county service area in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

“The grant allows us to serve Knox County and do more in the Niobrara area,” Rodriguez said. “This will be an expansion of our current services here (in Niobrara), and we have staff members based in Sioux City who are able to make visits.”

The Ponca Tribe’s grant is awarded through the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI) Innovation program. Tribes from around the United States submitted proposals.

NIEJI Innovation awarded funding to eight tribes from eight states to help them develop programs for their communities.

The tribal efforts will focus on two different areas of need, she said.

“It allows us to offer outreach and prevention work on elder abuse,” she said. “We can also develop a section of the Ponca tribal code that will better serve Native American elders. We hope to reach the under-served.”

The tribe intends to create greater awareness of abuse and neglect cases involving Native American elders, Rodriguez said. The tribe can also develop policy and a structure for reporting, investigating and intervening in those cases.

Elder abuse is just part of a wider problem, Rodriguez said. The grant will supplement work already under way with tribal domestic violence programs, she said.

“In 2016, our Domestic Violence Program served 262 Native American victims of abuse,” she said. “Of those, eight were elders.”

The awareness and outreach effort could discover undetected or unserved cases because of a lack of resources.

Rodriguez pointed to various types of abuse:

• Financial exploitation could consist of a family member or other person either directly taking or talking the elderly person into signing over resources. Those funds could include disability or retirement checks, savings or government funds such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 “The persons might tell the elder that they’re going to deposit the check in the bank and will instead cash it and keep the money for themselves,” Rodriguez said.

• Emotional abuse may not show physical scars but can also inflict damage, Rodriguez said.

“Emotional abuse can consist of name calling or putting down someone or isolating them,” she said. “Isolation can mean family members or others are kept from coming to the elder’s home, or the elder is kept from making contact with others.”

Law enforcement or other authorities may be contacted to conduct a welfare check on the elderly person, she said. The police and courts may also be contacted in cases of stalking and harassment.

• In physical and sexual abuse cases, the criminal justice system can become involved and receive a victim impact statement. Two sexual abuse cases last year involved elderly victims, she said.

• Spiritual abuse may include the prevention of elderly persons from practicing their religious faith, Rodriguez said.

“We have Native Americans who are not allowed or who are prevented from attending powwows and other spiritual events,” she said. “There might be instances where someone has refused to let anybody talk to an elder about spiritual matters.”

The Ponca Tribe domestic violence programs offer services ranging from advocacy, transportation and legal action to counseling, medical care and other resources, Rodriguez said.

Sometimes, family members contact authorities with concerns about an elder’s well-being, Rodriguez said. In some cases, law enforcement or social workers are brought into the setting. Other times, the victim may need to relocate for safety reasons.

“We advise victims who are ready to leave, so they know the safe time to leave and what to take with them,” she said. “Also, we advise them who to contact and who not to contact.”

Under the NIEJI grant, the Ponca Tribe’s domestic violence program plans to expand its elderly outreach, Rodriguez said. Staff will make presentations at weekly congregate elder lunches, Circle of Elders monthly meetings and Northern Ponca Elders Council quarterly meetings.

In addition, the staff will host informational booths at tribal community dinners and create newsletter articles mailed to all Ponca elders.

The staff will also involve elders on what to include with the Tribal Elder Code. A code will be established to protect elders within the jurisdiction of the Ponca Tribe from abuse, exploitation and neglect.

Currently, the Community Response Teams meet monthly to discuss effective and accountable services for perpetrators and enhanced support for victims.

The newly-awarded grant will provide greatly-needed funds, Rodriguez said. The grant is administered through the University of North Dakota’s Center for Rural Health.

“The biggest challenge is funding for our programs and affordable housing for our victims,” she said.

The Ponca Tribe’s domestic violence program recently won the Nebraska State Advocate of the Year award, Rodriguez said. The staff will be recognized at a Sept. 20 ceremony in Lincoln.

“We are promoting our domestic violence program,” she said. “We take this (problem) seriously.”

Full Article & Source:
Ponca Tribe Gets Grant To Battle Elder Abuse

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