Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Oct. 21 @ 3:45 p.m. / Community, Tribal Affairs

Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation Receives Federal Grant to Address Elder, Vulnerable Adult Abuse

The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation will use a $638,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant to add elder abuse and exploitation to the types of victimization it seeks to reverse in its community.

The tribe has established the Tolowa Elder and Vulnerable Adult Victim Services project, or TEVAS. Since the project will address all types of elder victimization, the tribe has contracted with Jermaine Brubaker, a Del Norte-based community and systems analyst, to conduct a survey determining what types of abuse is prevalent in its elder community, said Dorothy Wait, the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s Community and Family Services director.

The Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation will alsow ork with the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative to gather this survey data, according to a tribal news release.

The tribe’s goal, Wait said, is to establish a comprehensive victims services program division. The tribe currently offers services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as child victims of crime. Offering victim support services for elders and vulnerable adults will add to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation’s “menu of services” Wait said.

When it comes to elder abuse, 79 percent of cases go unreported in tribal communities, Wait said in a tribal news release. One goal of this new program is to help individuals and families recognize that abuse, she said.

“Sometimes our elders don’t even realize they’re being victimized,” Wait told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. “We’re going to try to do a lot of education around what’s victimization and what’s exploitation.”

The Tolowa Elder and Vulnerable Adult Victim Services project will also address abuse and exploitation of those who are disabled, according to Wait. However, since the tribe doesn’t have data on how many intellectually or physically disabled individuals are enrolled, Wait said she doesn’t know the exact number of people the new program could serve.

Wait said the Tolowa Elder and Vulnerable Adult Victim program will serve all native families not just Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation tribal members.

There are 285 tribal citizens who are over 55, according to Brubaker.

Brubaker, who worked with the tribe’s Community and Family Services Department through the Summer Youth Training Academy, said one of the things she’ll address is what the population the new program will serve looks like.

“We don’t know what’s out there,” she said. “Often times elders and families rarely report abuse. It comes from an outside agency.”

Elder abuse often takes the form of financial abuse or exploitation of their time, Brubaker said. This includes primary caregivers for children who will drop them off at their grandparents’ home whether or not they’re in good health.

There’s also ceremonial abuse which keeps an individual from participating in tribal ceremony or their spiritual pursuits, Brubaker said.

“Part of that is also looking at how do we prepare that population to have directives in place and things like that so people can’t take advantage of them,” she said.

According to Wait, following the survey, the program will initially focus on community education before working its way into advocacy and “one-on-one peer counseling.” This includes helping someone through the process of filing a complaint, getting a restraining order or prosecuting their abuser.

“We’d be walking through the process with them,” Wait said. “I imagine we’ll be working closely, probably with adult protective services in each state or county.”

Wait said her personal goal is to reduce the stigma people feel when they’ve inadvertently become a victim of exploitation or abuse.

“It’s not on the victim,” she said. “It’s not their fault.”


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