The safety and well-being of children is vital to a Native nation’s future. For years, tribal and state agencies in Alaska have taken different approaches to the needs of vulnerable families, leading to large numbers of children being adopted outside their home communities. With the goal of securing better outcomes for tribal families, the Sitka Tribe reached out to its state child protection counterparts to build more collaborative relationships to benefit tribal families. The Sitka ICWA Partnership is breaking new ground through brave communication, joint case management, and cooperative staff training.
Across the US, alcohol and opioid abuse have seriously disrupted countless lives. The Yurok reservation and its surrounding area are no exception—intergenerational poverty, high incarceration rates, and failed treatment attempts combine to create a cycle of violence and despair. In response, the Yurok Tribe is purposefully using its tribal justice system to improve outcomes for offenders with substance abuse problems. By infusing traditional Yurok values into the tribal court’s structure and proceedings, the Tribe’s Wellness Programming is building better futures for all community members.
Recognizing that creating and maintaining a justice system is vital to a strong society, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe of Alaska developed its own tribal court in 1986 – despite the fact that in Alaska, few if any tribes had taken this step before. Since then, the Kenaitze Tribal Court has worked diligently to expand its jurisdiction over a range of issues. Its leadership in child advocacy has been especially pioneering – in Alaska and beyond. By collaborating with state, tribal, local, and nonprofit agencies, the Court helps ensure that Native children are protected and kept safe – and reinforces the tribe’s assertion of jurisdiction over young tribal citizens. Today, nearly 100% of children in the tribal court system are placed with family or other tribal members. The Kenaitze Tribal Court gives tribes everywhere compelling proof that quality Native justice systems are foundational to effective governance and to the defense of sovereignty.
Children are the future of any nation. In the US, a misguided and shameful history of removing Native children from their homes destroyed families and communities. Although the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 affirmed tribal nations’ role in child protection, assimilationist policies have an ongoing influence, and Native children taken into the homes of non-Native families typically grow up with no connection to their extended families and lose their cultural identity. The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (PGST) resolved to create its own Child Welfare Program and recently took complete control over federal funds for child welfare, a first among tribes in the US. PGST provides services that are culturally sensitive and integrated with tribal programs to protect children and strengthen families.
In 2006, Leech Lake set aside generations of racial tension that existed between the tribe and its non-Native neighbors in order to focus on community healing. As a result, a DWI Wellness Court was formed by the Leech Lake Tribal Court and Minnesota’s Ninth Judicial District’s Cass County District Court to adjudicate and rehabilitate substance abusers. One year later, Leech Lake established a second Wellness Court in collaboration Itasca County District Court. The Wellness Courts operate under a joint powers agreement and serve both Native and non-Native people. They function as multi-agency advocacy and enforcement. Since its inception, the Joint Tribal-State Jurisdiction has grown in capacity, outreach, impact, and success and stands as an outstanding example of expanded self-governance.
Although the state of Oklahoma has one of the largest prison systems in the US, it provides released prisoners with little post-incarceration support. Many struggle to find their way on the “outside” and are eventually re-incarcerated. In the early 2000s, the Muscogee Nation set out to tackle this problem. The Nation’s Reintegration Program works with tribal citizens before and after they leave prison, paying attention to everything from jobs and housing to counseling and spiritual needs.
Born out of a need to create a judicial system that Tulalip citizens can trust and that also helps offenders to recover rather than just throwing them away, the Tulalip Tribal Court Alternative Sentencing Program supports the development of a safe, healthy, and law abiding community. Focusing on the mental, physical, and spiritual health of offenders, the Program melds indigenous and therapeutic jurisprudence, going beyond just placing offenders in jail. Beginning with the Tulalip Alternative Court and now backed by the entire Tulalip justice system, the nation's strategies for implementing Tulalip law now better reflect the sentiments of one of its traditional sayings, “To pull that canoe, you have to pull together.”
Navajo community leaders describe the methamphetamine phenomenon as a tidal wave that is overwhelming the entire community. The Navajo Nation police force estimates that 60% of all crimes committed on the reservation are methamphetamine related. In 2006, national news focused on the Navajo Nation as three generations were arrested together for use, distribution, and manufacturing of methamphetamine. Taking a proactive stance on policy issues, options, and recommendations in the areas of prevention, treatment, and/or enforcement, the Methamphetamine Task Forces actively combat the tidal wave of destruction within their communities. Drawing upon education, community involvement, cultural philosophies, and collaborations to address the burgeoning crisis, the Task Forces incorporate participation from elders, youth, recovered addicts and current users, law enforcement, health officials, and policy makers to embrace ‘The Beauty Way of Life,’ to systematically fight what many view as the most dire crisis in recent history.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has created a vibrant economy, and one of the underpinnings of its success is its court system. Organized independently of elected leadership, the court provides an arena for the fair, reliable resolution of disputes. Intent on not becoming just another adversarial court of law, the Choctaw Tribal Court strives to incorporate traditional Choctaw values into its law and practices, to help both victims and offenders, and to pay particular attention to tribal youth. In so doing, the Mississippi Choctaw have developed a comprehensive judicial system that responds to the needs of all its citizens.
In response to the challenges of meeting the public safety needs of their citizens across multiple jurisdictions, all with limited human and financial resources, and increased problems of drug and alcohol related crime, the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the City of Flandreau joined legal and financial resources in a working partnership to establish the Flandreau Police Department. Operating under a jointly run, independent Public Safety Commission, the Flandreau Police Department strengthens the ability of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe to exercise its right to protect and serve its citizens while demonstrating its commitment to safety for an entire community. In the process, all citizens Native and non-Native realize improved community safety.
The Yankton Sioux Tribe appointed 5 tribal members to sit on the Tribe’s Public Safety Commission in January of 2004. The Commission is intended to exercise oversight of 5 tribal police officers that Yankton is contracting from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) as provided for under Public Law 93-638. The purpose and powers of the Commission have not yet been established, and this report is intended to assist in developing the Commission so that it plays a productive part in effective law enforcement for the Yankton community.
Recognizing that effective law enforcement is both an essential governmental function and an important expression of sovereignty, the Gila River Indian Community assumed responsibility for its own policing in the late 1990s. Since taking over management from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Gila River Police Department dramatically strengthened its capacity to enforce laws and enhanced public safety improvements that are especially important because of the Community's proximity to a major metropolitan center. With its cadre of highly trained officers, the Gila River Police Department exemplifies the kind of efficiency and responsiveness gains possible under tribal control.
In 1999, in an effort to curb youth alcohol abuse, tribal members of the Organized Village of Kake (federally recognized Tribe of Kake, Alaska) established the Healing Heart Council and Circle Peacemaking, a reconciliation and sentencing process embedded in Tlingit traditions. Working in seamless conjunction with Alaska’s state court system, Circle Peacemaking intervenes in the pernicious cycle by which underage drinking becomes an entrenched pattern of adult alcoholism. Today, the program not only enforces underage drinking sentences in an environment where such accountability had been rare, but also restores the Tlingit culture and heals the Kake community.
In 1983, the Navajo Nation Corrections Project emerged as the only tribally funded program in the country to provide American Indian inmates in tribal, state, and federal prisons access to traditional religious ceremonial practices. A pioneer in the realm of prisoner advocacy, the Navajo Nation Corrections Project not only promotes Native inmates' dignity and recovery through access to culturally appropriate religious rites, but also wages a passionate defense of a basic human and civil right already guaranteed to non-Native inmates: the free practice of their religions.
Courts are cornerstones of sovereign governments: they define and uphold the laws through which nations govern themselves. Too often, however, the absence or weakness of tribal courts means tribal citizens must rely on state courts that are ill-equipped to serve their needs. In 1979, a consortium of small tribes whose limited resources precluded the establishment of independent tribal courts formed the Northwest Intertribal Court System (NICS). NICS has demonstrated its commitment to protecting and advancing tribal sovereignty for over two decades by providing its member tribes with adjudication services and helping them to establish their own courts that promote fair, equitable, and uniform justice.
Crime is increasing dramatically in Indian Country, but little is known about how such factors as culture, geography, and economy affect law enforcement policies and practices. The superficial description of Indian Country law enforcement shows a rural environment with rural-style policing, but these communities have a "government-to-government" relationship with the United States. While members of different tribes vary widely, most Indian nations face severe social and economic problems. The study was conducted by the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management and the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. It began with a literature review and visits to several Indian police departments and the Indian Police Academy in New Mexico. It included a two-part survey distributed to Indian police departments and intensive site visits to four reservations. The study concluded that there is a crisis in reservation policing, including: (1) high turnover and poor employee morale resulting in a lack of well-qualified and experienced officers; (2) flawed basic departmental management; (3) inadequate budgets, fiscal mismanagement, and even corruption; and (4) undue political interference in police operations. Suggested remedies for these problems include increased tribal control over tribal institutions, demotion of Federal agencies from decision makers to advisors and providers of technical assistance, and creation of workable, nation-specific community policing institutions and approaches informed by traditional customs.
Responding to a rash of child sexual abuse cases in Arizona and a federally legislated opportunity to craft tribal solutions, the Navajo Child Special Advocacy Program was launched in 1990 to provide Western and Navajo therapy to children who have been sexually abused. With five offices on the reservation, the Program administers sand, art and play therapy, energy psychology and trauma reduction counseling, and provides services and referrals for traditional Navajo therapy. They also conduct forensic interviews. By effectively addressing a pressing but rarely discussed social problem, the Program is helping to create a safe environment that nurtures children and families’ physical, mental and spiritual well being.