StrongHearts Native Helpline connects callers with advocates trained to understand Native cultures and communities

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FARMINGTON — A new nationwide crisis hotline is using culturally appropriate responses to help Native Americans affected by domestic violence and dating violence.

Since its start on March 6, the StrongHearts Native Helpline has been providing free, confidential services by connecting callers with advocates trained to understand Native cultures and communities, including issues surrounding tribal sovereignty and tribal laws.

Lucy Simpson is executive director for the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, which partnered with two national domestic violence organizations to develop the toll-free hotline.

"I think it's important that there's a service geared toward Native people that is culturally appropriate and that's not trying to put a universal, non-native template around issues we experience in Indian Country," Simpson said in a Friday telephone interview.

Advocates are trained to understand the challenges and issues domestic violence victims and survivors face in Native communities, in addition to providing immediate support by being "a listening ear" and guiding callers to Native American-centered resources, she said.

Simpson, who is Navajo, further explained the purpose of the helpline is to tackle barriers — including those developed by lack of services or by cultural teachings that emphasize maintaining family ties despite violence — Native communities have developed when talking about domestic violence.

"One of the big problems is that we turn our back on violence within our community. We're allowing it to continue," she said.

For now, the program has developed a database for resources and programs located in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma because more than 12.5 percent of the country's Native American population resides there, Simpson said.

She added efforts are underway to develop a national database for support services, advocacy organizations, shelters and legal help.

Studies continue to show high levels of domestic violence occurs in tribal communities. A report released last year by the National Institute of Justice revealed that four in five Native American and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime.

In response to the numbers, work started in 2012 by the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center and the National Domestic Violence Hotline to develop the StrongHearts Native Helpline.

In Farmington, the New Beginnings program under the Navajo United Methodist Center has been providing transitional housing and support services to domestic violence survivors and their families. The program's website states that 75 percent of participants are Native American, and the majority are from the Navajo Nation.

New Beginnings Executive Director Josey Foos commended the helpline for focusing on Native Americans and said the need for similar response is urgent for Native populations.

The StrongHearts Native Helpline can be reached at 844-762-8483, and advocates are available from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central time weekdays. If the call is placed outside business hours, it will connect to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Simpson said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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