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PONCA CITY — As the breeze off Lake Ponca made the empty shawl’s purple fringe flutter in the breeze, Sarah Blueback Tillman struggled to keep the tears at bay and her voice steady.

Speaking before dozens Thursday afternoon at the sixth annual Six Nations Domestic Violence Walk, Tillman, a citizen of the Ponca Tribe and coordinator for  the Tonkawa Tribe’s Substance Abuse and Suicide Prevention program, took to the podium during a chair ceremony, to read a poem her mother wrote in honor of a young domestic violence casualty from their community.

“Remember my name,” she read, the words catching in her throat. “Remember my name.”

The Kaw Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Osage Nation, Pawnee Nation, Ponca Tribe and Tonkawa Tribe co-sponsored Thursday’s walk at Lake Ponca in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Ponca City is within the jurisdictional areas of the Osage Nation and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. The other co-host tribes are headquartered within 40 miles of the community.  

According to a report published in December 2016 by the National Institute of Justice, more than 80 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced some form of violence, including psychological abuse, stalking or physical abuse.

Additionally, one in three Native women report having been raped during her lifetime and an estimated one in four Native men experience some form of sexual violence. 

“Domestic violence doesn’t care whether you’re rich or poor,” said the Rev. Jim White of the Ponca Indian United Methodist Church. “Domestic violence doesn’t care what you look like. It impacts all of us.” 

According to the Indian Law Resource Center, non-Natives are responsible for 88 percent of all crimes committed against Native women.

Under the terms of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, tribes may exercise special criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives who violate a protective order or commit an act of domestic or dating violence against a tribal citizen within the tribe’s jurisdictional area.   

The expanded tribal provisions do not extend to crimes committed by a stranger, child abuse cases that do not involve a violated protective order, offenses committed on non-tribal land or to crimes outside VAWA’s scope, such as robbery, identity theft or child abuse. 

However, so far, only 16 tribes nationwide have implemented the special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction provisions under VAWA, including the Seminole Nation, Sac and Fox Nation and the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. To date, only the Arizona-based Pascua Yaqui Tribe has prosecuted a non-Native domestic violence offender, although several tribal leaders at Thursday’s walk noted that more people are speaking up and speaking out on the matter. 

“I have seen my share of victims over the years,” Kaw Nation Chairwoman and former Bureau of Indian Affairs agent Jacque Secondine Hensley said. “In the ‘90s…no one talked about it. If you were a victim, people would help you, but would stay quiet it about it. It was like a skeleton in the closet. Now it’s much more out in the open.” 

Although north-central Oklahoma’s tribal domestic violence programs regularly coordinate efforts thanks to their geographic proximity, the annual walk carries an additional special significance.

Janett Reyna, one of the coordinators of the first Six Nations Walk in 2012, was stabbed to death in August 2013 by her boyfriend, Luis Octavio Frias, in front of two of the couple’s three children. A former police officer, Reyna was the domestic violence coordinator for the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and had a protective order out against Frias at the time of her death.

More than four years later, her assailant remains at large and is thought to be hiding in Mexico.

A first-degree murder warrant is still out for Frias’ arrest and bond is set at $5 million. He stands about 5 feet, 11 inches and weighs around 200 pounds. Any one with information on his whereabouts is asked to call the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-522-8017.

“I hate to give the specific details of her death, but those are the facts,” Ponca Chairman Earl Howe III said. “It may be hard to hear, but some people are living that.

“The truth of the matter is that because of what happened to her (Reyna), those kids don’t have their mom or a dad right now.”

Tribal domestic violence programs in north-central Oklahoma:

Kaw Nation: 580-362-1098

Osage Nation: 866-897-4747

Otoe-Missouria Tribe: 580-723-4466 ext. 132

Pawnee Nation: 918-399-3310 or 855-810-4144

Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma: 580-761-3144

Tonkawa Tribe: 580-628-7028

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