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Tribes look to curb domestic violence

By Megan Terlecky, Anchor / Reporter, megan.terlecky@cbslocal2.com
Published On: Dec 06 2012 06:56:24 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 06 2012 07:06:55 PM CST
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -

Over 1,000 people from Native American tribes all over the country are in Palm Springs this week to help curb domestic violence.  Native Americans have the highest rates of any race in the United States.  That's why tribal members, as well as federal groups are working together to change that trend.

The 13th National Indian Nations Conference: Justice for victims of crime, is being held in Palm Springs.

Julie Watts, a Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate member, says,  "Everybody needs to know they are not alone."

Watts lost her daughter to a violent crime.

"She was a homicide victim," said Watts.

She says this conference is a way for her to heal.

"Its just good to get away and meet other people and different ideas and see how they are working with programs," said Watts.

The four day conference brings together Native American nations from all over the country with federal programs that help stop the cycle of domestic abuse.

Bonnie Clairmont, a Ho-Chunk member and presenter at the conference, says, "We have some of the highest rates of any race in this country to experience those types of violence, so it's really important to bring people together to help them identify resources that they can take back home."

Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse, it's a statistic people at the conference hope to change.

"I am a survivor of domestic violence," says Patricia Gitchel.

Gitchel, a member of Chehalis, also just lost her son to suicide.

"A lot of people have grown up not talking about things and situations, because I felt that we were shunned," said Gitchel.

Part of the challenge is each tribe is it's own sovereign nation with unique traditions and ways of helping each other.  There's isn't one solution that fits all.

"If you got physically abused, you didn't tell anybody because you loved your family," said Gitchel.

By speaking about what goes on behind closed doors, tribal members hope to reverse this alarming trend.

"I think it's sad because I think there is still a quietness about it, it's still 'keep silent' and I think it's just now beginning to people start to recognize it and be more open to it," said Watts.

"Things we have our culture we have our values and traditions that can help us when we experience loss or when we have family members who experience them," said Clairmont.

It is making a difference.

"It's just a wondering feeling to be able to feel loved and heard and confident," said Gitchel.

For more information about the conference, click here.