Kent Miller, victims specialist for Tribal Victim Services at Prairie Band Potawatomi reservation near Mayetta, places a newspaper section over the head of a young girl, shapes it around her head and then wraps masking tape around the newspaper to form a floppy hat.
Miller watches and offers encouragement as the girl — once traumatized by domestic violence — uses colorful feathers, fuzzy balls and other art materials to decorate the hat. The girl is delighted by her creation.
"One of our mantras is all art is beautiful, and there's no right or wrong way to do art," he said, explaining how children of domestic violence often have low self-esteem. "It gives them the freedom to make decisions (without being told they're wrong or being punished). It gives them that moment in time when they can create."
The girl was taking part in Tribal Victim Services' healing through art program offered in the old Tribal Court Building. In addition to two classes for children placed in foster care, the program offers an art studio for adults who provide services in the community and an open art studio for anyone who wants to do an art project.
The art classes, which started in July 2010, have incorporated acrylic and watercolor painting, sand creations, papier mache, collages, mask making, mosaics and finger painting.
"This is unlike art therapy. We don't analyze their artworks. People can express whatever they want to express," Miller, who leads the studios, said. "There's lots of conversation and discussion of feelings while they are doing the art. It relaxes them enough so they can express themselves more and better."
Rebekah Jones, program manager, said Tribal Victim Services was established six years ago with the goal of assisting American Indian victims of crime and their families. The program originally was housed in the Potawatomi Tribal Police Department and about six months ago merged with the Family Violence Prevention Program in the Social Services Office.
"We try to be as comprehensive as possible because we're moving from a police-based program to a social services-based program," Jones said, adding the program now has six full-time employees. "We work within many systems — law enforcement, court, medical, child welfare — anything the victim needs as a result of the crime."
Services provided include advocacy; counseling; emergency assistance, such as housing, food and transportation; criminal justice process information and court accompaniment; and referrals to other services.
"We also work with the victim's family to let them know the physical and psychological repercussions and the short- and long-term effects of victimization," she said. "We talk to the family about how they can support the victim and maybe get long-term counseling."
Jones said Tribal Victims Services serves members of any federally recognized tribe within Jackson, Pottawatomie, Nemaha, Brown, Jefferson and Shawnee counties. In addition to Prairie Band Potawatomi, other tribes in those counties area Kickapoo, Sac and Fox and Iowa.
Page 2 of 2 - Jones said statistics show one of every three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes. Last year, more than 37 incidences of domestic violence were reported in the Prairie Band Potawatomi community and 120 women were served by the Family Violence Prevention Program.
"We recognize here that domestic violence is a continuum of historical trauma and a result of the breakdown of the family structure," she said.
Jones said Tribal Victims Services staff are applying for grants to implement a program for children who have witnessed domestic violence and a prevention program that focuses on boys and men resuming their roles as providers and protectors.
The staff also are working to promote awareness of domestic violence and available services through community events, including two projects connected to the healing through art program.
In October 2011, as part of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 72 individuals created The Community Story Tree, a large mosaic of art tiles that formed the image of a tree, Miller said. The artwork was unveiled during a First Friday Art Walk in Topeka and later became a traveling exhibit to other tribal locations in northeast Kansas.
Last October, a Splatters That Matter 24-hour art marathon allowed community members to paint messages supporting the fight to stop domestic violence and sexual assault.