alternative dispute resolution

Wrapping Our Ways Around Them: Aboriginal Communities and the CFCSA Guidebook

Author
Year

This Guidebook is based on the belief that Aboriginal peoples need to know, and work with, the systems that impact children and families today such as the Child, Family and Community Service Act (CFCSA), Provincial Court (Child, Family and Community Service Act) Rules (Rules), Child, Family and Community Service Regulation (CFCSA Regulation), Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) and delegated Aboriginal agencies.

Exercising exclusive jurisdiction over child welfare remains the goal for Aboriginal peoples: Restoring Aboriginal ways of doing things, especially in caring for children, is essential for the health and well-being of children and families. Successive generations of Aboriginal children continue to be taken into the child welfare system. Without intervention, experience has shown that the outcome for these children will be bleak and reverberate outward, influencing the future of entire families, communities and nations. This Guidebook suggests immediate steps that can be taken on the ground we are standing on–within the CFCSA and systems that impact Aboriginal children and families today–to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children while building toward a better future.

Resource Type
Citation

Walkem, Ardith. Wrapping Our Ways Around Them: Aboriginal Communities and the CFCSA Guidebook. ShchEma-mee.tkt Project. Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council. British Columbia, Canada. 2015. Guide. (http://cwrp.ca/sites/default/files/publications/en/wowat_bc_cfcsa_1.pdf, accessed May 29, 2015)

Grand Traverse Band Tribal Court

Year

Constitutionally separated from the political influences of government, the Tribal Court hears more than 500 cases per year, and utilizes "peacemaking" to mediate in cases in which dispute resolution is preferred to an adversarial approach. The Court adjudicates on such issues as child abuse, juvenile delinquency, guardianships, contract disputes, constitutional issues, personal and property injuries, and employment disputes. By turning to the Peacemaking system, the Tribe has been able to resolve often contentious legal issues in a manner which helps retain the social fabric that ties the community together.

Resource Type
Citation

"Tribal Court of the Grand Traverse Band". Honoring Nations: 1999 Honoree. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2000. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Kake Circle Peacemaking

Year

Restoring its traditional method of dispute resolution, the Organized Village of Kake adopted Circle Peacemaking as its tribal court in 1999. Circle Peacemaking brings together victims, wrongdoers, families, religious leaders, and social service providers in a forum that restores relationships and community harmony. With a recidivism rate of nearly zero, it is especially effective in addressing substance abuse-associated crimes.

Resource Type
Citation

"Kake Circle Peacemaking". Honoring Nations: 2003 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2004. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Navajo Nation Judicial Branch: New Law and Old Law Together

Year

The Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation seeks to revive and strengthen traditional common law while ensuring the efficacy of the Nation’s western-based court model adopted by the Nation. With over 250 Peacemakers among its seven court districts, the Judicial Branch utilizes traditional methods of dispute resolution as the "law of preference," which allows the courts to be more responsive to people, issues, and traditional institutions. Responding to a desire for others to learn how the Navajo judicial system operates and to teach others how to effectively utilize common law, the Supreme Court has held more than 13 sessions in off-Reservation venues since 1992. The Branch has also developed the Navajo Nation Bar Association, comprised of over 300 members who are licensed to practice in the Navajo Courts.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

"New Law and Old Law Together". Honoring Nations: 1999 Honoree. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 2000. Report.

Permissions

This Honoring Nations report is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

Kake Circle Peacemaking - Overview Video

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

This video -- produced by the Organized Village of Kake -- depicts the restoration of traditional methods of dispute resolution the Organized Village of Kake adopted Circle Peacemaking as its tribal court in 1999. Circle Peacemaking brings together victims, wrongdoers, families, religious leaders, and social service providers in a forum that restores relationships and community harmony. With a recidivism rate of nearly zero, it is especially effective in addressing substance abuse-associated crimes.

Resource Type
Citation

The Organized Village of Kake. "Kake Circle Peacemaking." Kellogg Video Production. Kake, Alaska. 2003. Film.

This Honoring Nations "Lessons in Nation Building" video is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.

[Singing]

Mike Jackson:

“Circle peacemaking is from traditional ways was called in the Tlingit language [Tlingit language], that meant that they were the 'People of the Deer.”

Kake Circle Peacemaking

[Singing]

Mike Jackson:

“Traditionally, there’s the two moieties that are part of our Tlingit heritage and it’s Eagle and the Raven moiety and under that there’s a clan system under each one. And when you look at the [Tlingit language], no one claims the Deer because the Deer Clan is a sacred clan because it means they’re the peacemakers. Okay, my name is Mike Jackson. I’m the Kake, local Kake magistrate and also Keeper of the Circle.

Our circle peacemaking we began and brought out from our traditional way of living here in Kake five years ago and it’s been five years that we’ve been having the circle peacemaking at Kake where we’re finding it really helps people in terms of remedial restorative justice where we have set up a plan for people who are referred to the circle and they’re referred either by friends, family, themselves or the court.

And the court, the way they do it is that the defendant would propose it to their attorney, the attorney would propose it to the state DA [district attorney] and the DA and the attorney would take it to the judge and come up with what’s called a Rule 11 agreement. And that they would ask the judge to defer the state case and send the case over for circle sentencing. The judge will tell the defendant to, that he’s bound and when the defendant agrees that’s what he wants to do, he’s bound by what’s called the consensus agreement where we come up with a sentence that everybody agrees on that are participants in the community circle sentencing.

So that has been going fairly well because we work with the Superior Court judge and the District Court judges that over the years have referred cases to the circle. And sometimes the DA will put out in front of the defendant if they follow everything that is in the circle sentence, after the probationary period is done that they might dismiss the case, but if the defendant does not follow through with circle sentence, then we will have another hearing to see if that’s what his intention is or if he just forgot to do something within the agreement we’ll give him another chance, but if he blows that chance then he is referred back to the District Attorney and the judge will do a sentencing on him. That has happened with two cases.

So probably out of 70 cases in adult circles, only two did not agree to follow up on the circle sentencing. But that is a real high rate of success. That’s around about 98 percent, just a roundabout figure, whereas in the state way there is a high rate of recidivism. I’m not going to put a percentage on it, but it’s pretty low compared to our rate of success.”

Justin McDonald:

“We formed this group and they’re pretty much the core group for the circle. We try to get, we have reps from the different entities in the community, from the city council, tribal government, corporation, local corporations, the school, law enforcement and then elders and just anyone who’s concerned about wellness in the community.”

Mike Jackson:

“When you look at the state archives, you don’t see any record of Kake criminal history until the state sets up a magistrate business here in the 1960s, but there’s nothing really until the ‘70s. And all felonies were dealt with, there’s some felonies that does show up, but it’s rare that you see a misdemeanor because all the problems were solved by the people themselves by talking it out and talking it out in a circle setting where you talk from the heart.

And by talking from the heart, I mean you bring up things that have happened to you similar to what was done by say a wrongdoer that was there, the state calls them offenders, and then there’s the victim. And in circle peacemaking, the victim is the most important component of the circle because they have to understand that they did not do anything to deserve what they ended up being victims of. And by victims through the circle process they come out survivors at the end of it. The important part of circles is the process. It’s not about the wrongdoer, the offender -- it’s about the process when people start talking from the heart to support the victim, but also to support the wrongdoer.”

Justin McDonald:

“We don’t just handle criminal cases either. We also handle interventions, interventions of family members, a family’s concerned about a family member and they’ll refer them to the circle. We get more so of that, that happening more so with the youth and it’s just been very, very powerful.”

Lakrista Ekis:

“It’s kind of like a big counseling group. I like it. You can talk about your problems and you don’t, they find a punishment for you that suits your crime.”

Justin McDonald:

“Whenever there’s a youth who gets in trouble, we try to, we make it a point to invite anyone directly involved with the youth, in their life -- teachers, friends, parents, grandparents, people who know them, places they hang out. Just basically it’s open to anybody.”

Mike Jackson:

“For years it has really calmed down that revolving door that I’ve almost started to see...because I’ve been the magistrate for the last 14 years now and I’ve seen kids grow up from kindergarten, Head Start, all the way to graduation and ended up in the chair there. We knew that their behavior was something that they should have been addressed.”

Lakrista Ekis:

“Life moves by so fast that we don’t really realize what’s going on around us. So I think that when you come into a circle and you sit down and you actually listen to what is really going on I think it gets pretty interesting. You get interested in it and what’s really going on, you finally get to see it.”

Justin McDonald:

“When an incident happens, the incident happens, then they go to an arraignment in the district court and right there, that’s when they have that opportunity to choose, take an alternative. Either if they want to plead not guilty and fight it then they can take it all the way to court, but if they’re obviously guilty then they can plead guilty or no contest and that’s where they have a choice is to either go to the alternative, which is the circle peacemaking or go to the regular system. So from there we try to, if they go to the regular court system, then their court hearing could be delayed a couple months and nothing happens. A lot of things can happen within two months and we feel it’s very important to act on it immediately, respond to the incident immediately. So after they have the arraignment we’ll either try to do it that night or the next day.”

Lakrista Ekis:

“If someone is having trouble, I think a lot of people actually show up for it. They really do care. I never realized how much people cared until we had a real circle and I seen all these people. I was like, ‘Whoa! These people really do care.’ So it’s pretty cool.”

[Singing]

Guidelines of Peacemaking

Mike Jackson:

“The ‘guidelines of peacemaking’ is that everyone is equal, like I come in as the magistrate, but when I sit down I’m part of the community, that’s all I am. Same way as the police, they’ll take their hat off and they’re part of the circle because every heart is at the same level. One person talks at a time, we respect each other, we do not point the blame and we take timely breaks. Everyone is inclusive, there’s a prayer at the beginning and at the end.

Now this is where spirituality comes into it. We find out a lot of people find themselves and their greater power when they go through the process of healing or counseling and it comes up to be, they come up to be a better person for it. They kind of gain their soul back because they say when you’re out of control, your spirit leaves you because it sits there waiting for you if you get too involved in say drugs and alcohol or other addictions. But everyone in the room is part of the circle. Everything that is said in the circle is confidential.”

[Singing]

The Circle Process

Mike Jackson:

Stage I: Opening

“Stage one, the opening of the circle, there’s the welcoming by the Keeper of the Circle. There’s an opening prayer that is asked for, usually elders would say that. There are circle guidelines where we explain, just like we did here, the guidelines of the circle. There’s introductions, it’s a real quick introduction of who you are sitting there and what you’ve come there for like support of the victim or the offender or just for support of the community and the circle by itself."

Stage II: Legal Facts

"Then the legal facts are said. Usually it’s the judge or police or somebody volunteers to do that. The police might be there. If they’re not, that’s all right. There’s a defense opening, which is usually, a lot of times they aren’t there, the public defender. And if there was something like a probation, there was a broken probation then there’s a probation report either by police or one of the local circle keepers. And what the legal facts are, the legal summary, what could have been sentenced if they went to court."

Stage III: Clarifying Information

“But the Stage Three, the clarifying of information is by the support groups. A lot of times they will just wait to say their part when it comes their time to speak. But the last persons to speak in every round, especially after, except for the introductions, is going to be the, the last person really to speak would be the wrongdoer."

Stage IIII: Finding Common Ground

"But Stage Four is really searching for common ground where we use our talking stick and it could be anything, the talking circle, a stone, the spirituality of it like our elders have said this diamond willow that was given to us for the process, it represents our elders that have passed on, by them looking at us with the diamond eyes, and then it also represents today’s issues of what we’re sitting there talking about, but it also represents a support of the people that do get up to talk. Sometimes people get up in respect of one another, but it also talks about, and they talk about the future of things."

Stage V: Exploring Options

"So people are looking for common ground, they start speaking from the heart on what they might have experienced and how they might be able to help the victim or the wrongdoer to get past the incident."

Stage VI: Developing Consensus

"Then after it all goes around, it comes back to looking at developing a consensus where usually there’s a support group or counselor that will say, ‘Well, the offender would like to say this, that they were going to go to alcohol counseling or anger management or they’re going to write a letter of apology to the victim, their family and the community,’ and it starts the process of looking at a consensus or coming up with a circle sentence where it brings all the community’s concern, it brings and develops a remedial part of the circle where there’s a plan laid out where the offender is going to learn from it and how the healing is going to start for the victim and for the offender, their families and the community."

Stage VII: Closing of Circle

Now we go over, and it closes with a prayer and usually on all of ours that we do there are shaking of hands, a lot of times more in closely there’s hugging, there’s tears. A lot of times it gets very emotional and like the old people say, ‘Tears are starting the process of healing to get the poison out of you and it starts the healing.’ And it says, ‘Anybody can shed a tear.”

Justin McDonald:

“It’s all about the encouragement, the ongoing support, and when we know they’re doing good we get together, people bring the food and it’s a little potluck afterwards. It’s just small, just munchies and everything. That’s the only money we spent, too.”

Mike Jackson:

“We cannot afford to wait any longer to have somebody come in to cure us. We have to do that within ourselves. It would be way too more, too expensive to try to do that with today’s modern way of approaching curing people.”

Justin McDonald:

“We started out with no money at all ‘cause this really doesn’t take money, just concerned people.”

Mike Jackson:

“I would say we’ve saved the State of Alaska hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future from people sobering up; the State of Alaska and the different say non-profit organizations, health organizations. People are now doing things that are relevant in their lives. The costs, we have no budget. We run on zero, because who else is going to do it?”

Justin McDonald:

“This is a situation where we’re seeing results immediately, the next day, within the next week. It’s nothing we have to wait a few months down the road or to a year to see if we had an impact at all.”

Mike Jackson:

“A lot of times in a macho male world they say we’ve been brought up to say that it’s not good for men to cry, but we know in a circle and we tell them, ‘Once you find safety in a circle, a lot of times you talk from the heart and from the heart there’s that emotion that comes out, the expression of it and we do not try to hold those things back. We try to say that’s just part of the process of how people heal.”

[Singing]

Principles Common To All Circles

Mike Jackson:

“But the principles common to all circles is their process. The consensus approach where everyone is agreeing, even if they disagree, they’re agreeing to go along with it because it’ll benefit the whole circle but it will also benefit the whole community. There’s interest based, it’s really subject to what really happened. It’s self designed because every circle is different, we’re finding out. The flexibility of circles is one of the best parts of it because we can have that any time, anywhere, anyplace and that people are always invited, anyone that’s invited to come and that is willing to come to volunteer. The spirituality part, you noticed that we’ve had prayers in the openings and prayers at the end, to open it and start it in a good way because circles are sacred when people come together to talk about a healing process. There’s, like I said, the holistic healing. There’s a plan laid out and if it’s not followed, then there’s another circle done as a follow up circle. We just don’t give up on people. On some people we’ve had three, four circles because in a way they start changing. We meet with them over and over again and then they’ll start seeing the change and starting to get their soul back and that is really something to watch people grow.

There’s the participants, there’s anybody that’s inclusive that would like to volunteer. There’s a direct participation by everyone with an equal opportunity to talk, to give their heart, sharing their heart and their perspective and the respect of one another. The people that have come voluntarily, every time that are inclusive come back saying that it’s also good for them. The whole process is that they’re becoming better people in the community. I know it has been a calming effect on me, on my perspective of different religions and to me, I didn’t know what '12 Steps' were until people that were in the '12-Step' program started really telling me what it was about. So I’ve learned a lot about addictions from people that are right in it.

There’s the principles derived from circles, there’s the peacemaking people that go through, they learn it and as we have in our community there are the youth circles, that’s what we call youth courts. There’s the mediation, people start learning how to compromise and give and take. Then there’s consensus building in our community. People start learning how to give up oneself and say, ‘Well, I can give up that much of myself because it’s good for the victim, it’s good for the wrongdoer, it’s good for the community.’ They start learning, to me, it’s a personal observation, we start learning to be Tlingits again. Tlingit’s not just about like some elders mentioned that I read somewhere, it’s not about just language, it’s not about just dance or the oral part of it, but it’s about listening, it’s about participation, it’s about caring for the community, it’s about practicing being Tlingit, about sharing oneself for the betterment of the community and the children.”

[Singing]

Benefits of Integrating the Court System with the Community Circle

Mike Jackson:

“‘It’s important for communities to be involved in the process that directly affects the community,’ Judge Barry Stuart says. ‘It’s also essential that the community members establish a working relationship and partnership with the formal system,’ in our sense it’s Alaska court system, ‘and the circle peacemaking and acknowledge that our experiences shows that when this is done, it develops a much stronger community.’ It just helps our whole community out. There’s not so much money being spent on wrongdoers anymore. The changes from courts to community circle peacemaking is really radical. We’re not saying that one process is better than the other, but we’re knowing that when we get together and work together it becomes a better community.

The court system, community circles, who’s involved in the circles is local people, who’s involved in the court is lawyers and non-residents. Just like today, we had a hearing. The judge and the lawyers were from out of town and the local residents were sitting here listening telephonically. Who knows better what to do with local people than ourselves? The consensus agreement of the process is community versus the problem. The process in the court system is adversarial, state versus offender. It’s very different. The legal issues in the court are laws are broken. Here in our circles, relationships are broken and it’s really dramatic when you look at things like assault fourth degree, domestic violence. It affects everybody. The focus in the court is about guilt and offender. So over here in the community circles, it’s about holistic view, the needs of the victim, the community, the source of the problem, the wrongdoer, the resources for the solutions. In Kake, we’re real fortunate to have counselors and social workers to help us out to come up with resolutions and trying to make people work on their healing path.

The tools of the court system is punishment and control, but we’re finding out that it always goes and it’s always proven, assault for domestic violence, you punish the wrongdoer or offender and you put them in jail, that’s what he expects and you notice and they all kind of stick together in jail because they all know that they can blame somebody else for their wrongdoing. So it gives, it empowers them and it gives them still control in their own minds. Whereas you look over here in the community circles, it’s about healing and support. When you start supporting those wrongdoers, you’ll never see anybody change so radically because maybe it’s a first time somebody, ‘I love you, I care for you,’ rather than putting them down. Like I said, words could be clubs and maybe that’s all they’ve ever heard all their lives. Even in our small community, we’re really surprised that so few people ever heard the words, ‘We’re here just because we care about you.”

Justin McDonald:

“Then we also have follow-up circles. We check on these people: a month, three months and then six months down the road and if they, and this is just to see how they’re doing, check on them. Everyone in the circle, it’s very, it’s confidential. That’s a very important aspect of the circle also. It’s confidential, but anyone in the circle, they can talk amongst themselves about the circle hearing and they’re all the eyes and ears out there in the community. Like I was saying, we all see each other so we know what the person, the offender or the youth in question, what’s going on with them, what to watch for now. And everyone makes a commitment to check on this person, at least stop and say hi if they see them. If they see they’re feeling bummed out, they’re feeling a little bad, depressed or what have you or may be acting out, they’ll make a commitment to stop and talk to them or let the group know and we’ll call another circle, call them in and ask them, just do a follow-up.”

Mike Jackson:

“As a small individual group in Kake, we’re starting to be called all over to see if we can come and talk about what we’re doing here. To me that’s remarkable in a five-year period because all we’re doing is what’s called self-determination and practicing autonomy. Who is going to come in to change us? All our lives we’ve been up against change but who, are we going to make ourselves better? It depends upon ourselves. We cannot wait for the government or someone to come and save us. We have to do it ourselves because we would like to have our children have a better day.”

Justin McDonald:

“We’re starting to do more trainings, getting calls to come out and train. We’ve, our kids have gone to Mount Edgecumbe Boarding School, Mount Edgecumbe High School, and worked with the kids over there. We’ve gone to Ketchikan to work with their youth court over there. Our adult circle’s getting called out now to do trainings in different communities. It’s just really taking off. That’s why we talk about the spirit it has of it’s own. It’s just branching out.”

Mike Jackson:

“In other communities like Haines where they started this a year and a half ago, that it works up in an all non-native, really a non-native community, but it works there. It’s working in mid Anchorage where the juvenile homes are using it for talking circles and to start talking about juvenile probation issues. So it works anywhere.”

Justin McDonald:

“Wanted to build this relationship again within the community, it’s all about restoring a relationship and balance within the people and the community and we’ve found that the circle is just the perfect way to do this because when you attend a circle, you’re there to support one person, but everyone in there is sharing from their heart. It’s all about compassion and encouragement and support.”

Mike Jackson:

“And to us this stick has supported a lot of people on their way to healing. It has become very shiny and kind of a sacred stick to us and it’s just the diamond willow and it might be called an ugly stick, but it sure is a beauty stick to people who have changed their lives. [Tlingit language]. Good luck.”

[Singing]

For More Information Contact

Mike A. Jackson
(907) 785-3651 or 6471

Organized Village of Kake
Post Office Box 316
Kake, Alaska 90830

Kellogg Video Productions 2003
Edited by Brian Kellogg
907 351 6439

Property of OVK

NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: Rae Nell Vaughn (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Rae Nell Vaughn, former Chief Justice of the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, discusses the critical role that justice systems play in the rebuilding of Native nations and shares how the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has worked to develop its justice system to reflect and promote its culture and meeting the evolving challenges that it faces.

Resource Type
Citation

Vaughn, Rae Nell. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. September 15, 2009. Interview.

Ian Record:

"What role do tribal justice systems play in rebuilding Native nations?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's been my experience that it plays a significant role in regards to tribal government. One thing that I have found within the 11 years of my judicial experience is the fact that tribal governments as a whole have had to play a role of catch-up, fast tracked. In regards to Mississippi Choctaw, we established our constitution in 1945 at a point in time where we were living in very oppressed conditions. Of course, as you know, historically the tribe was removed to Oklahoma and we're the descendants of the members that chose to stay. No federal or state recognition at that point up until the time of recognition and the development of our constitution, and it was a building process. You had a number of leaders who would step up and were wanting to form a strong government. Of course, the justice system itself came in years later, but overall they've had to try to fast track a government in order to provide the people with services, and it was a struggle, it was a definite struggle. And of course ultimately, a justice system was developed under the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], a court of regulations, a CFR [Code of Federal Regulations] court, and that had its challenges all on its own because you have the mechanisms but not the resources to provide law and order. And your reliance was on the BIA and it was a definite struggle during the early years of this system. You had a membership maybe at that time of close to 3,000 possibly.

Now going back historically, the membership dwindled down in the early 1900s to less than 1,000 because of the influenza epidemic and here we are in 2009 and have a membership of 10,000. And you talk about a flourishing economy at some point with the successes of this tribe, but you also talk about the population growth and with it coming the social ills and influences that impact a community. And so I've seen this system evolve, even prior to my interaction with it, becoming a judge. It's grown by leaps and bounds. They started off with a staff of maybe three: a tribal member judge -- when it was under the control of BIA -- and maybe one or two folks that also participated. And to this point, once...during my tenure as a judge, we were up to 32 employees. You had 11 members on the judiciary, which is so unheard of, but for me it was a signal from the government [that], 'This is important. A justice system for this government is important and we are investing in our government and in our people to provide them a fair form of justice.' Knowing where we're at, we're located in Mississippi, and the struggles that minorities have faced, Native people have faced, has always been there, an underlying issue. And so being able to have our people be in a forum that's fair for them, being judged by their peers was the most important thing. But also it was the fundamental exercise of sovereignty, operating a system, a judicial system, which not many tribes have had the ability to do and maybe not to the degree that we've been able to do it. That's not to say that there haven't been any challenges. There are, just like there are with any system, whether it's a tribal system or non-Native system, but it's a work in progress. Codes are forever changing and you have to keep your hand on...keep on the pulse of what's happening nationally because what happens nationally will ultimately affect you locally.

And so cases such as Nevada v. Hicks, issues of jurisdiction, those have far-reaching ramifications. So having a stable, consistent, and well-educated and well-trained judiciary is very important, and those are the things that I think tribal governments really have to take a look at and recognize the investment that you're making."

Ian Record:

"And I would assume that in that understanding of what's going on nationally, it's not just the judiciary that has to understand, it's elected leadership and particularly the legislators, the ones that are making those laws to say, "˜We've got to be out front on these issues so we're not stuck in a corner one day in the near future having to react defensively to something we're not prepared for.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly. We have to be proactive. It hits every area of government: economic development, education, healthcare. We have to be very diligent and we have to go the extra mile in making sure that we're protecting our sovereignty and at the same time being aware of what the landscape is looking like politically. There have been times in previous [U.S. presidential] administrations where they haven't been quite so favorable to Native Americans. And we may be here at a time of renaissance where there's going to be more participation, more of us as Native people at the table speaking on our behalves, on our own behalf. As a Native person, this is where I've been, this is what we've gone through and this is what we can do and this is what we want to provide for the people, because at times Native people get lost in the shuffle of all the social programs and issues that the federal government itself is dealing with. There are some tribes that are very fortunate to have the additional revenues to provide for their tribes and some aren't. How do we all work together to make sure that each of these tribes are able to have the type of support to be able to function and exercise as a government?"

Ian Record:

"Mississippi Choctaw's court system was recognized by the Honoring Nations program at the Harvard Project in American Indian Economic Development just a few years ago. And in large part it was recognized because of its ability to exercise or to be a vehicle for sovereignty for the nation. Based on your experience in that system, in that court system, I was wondering if you could speak to this issue of strong independent court systems and what those look like, what do those systems require to be effective?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"That's a very good question, because it's a challenge that all tribal court systems face. And let me say that the Honoring Nations program was such an excellent exercise for us, because as a system you're in the trenches every day and you don't realize the things that you're doing have such far-reaching impact. And so when we began this process of going through the rigors of the Honoring Nations project program, I was just so amazed. "˜We're doing so much here, we're looking at alternative resources and programs, we're trying to look at things more holistically versus using the American jurisprudence of dropping the gavel and that's it,' because we recognize that within Native communities we're going to be among one another. I'm not moving anywhere, you're not moving anywhere, we're staying in this community, and it's trying to ensure that we have healthy communities and using the justice system and possibly not just going before formal court, using our peacemaker court, using teen court, using our healing-to-wellness court, are other alternatives that are available to the membership and it goes back to our own Native teaching of who we are. We were never a people -- as with other tribes -- that all we wanted to do was fight amongst one another, but of course all of this takes place based on social influences and evolution of things and prosperity. And so going back to your question, it requires due diligence among both sides of the aisle, the legislative body, the executive as well as the judiciary. And it's a really hard balance because I'm a member of the community, I have children who attend the schools, I'm a voting member, I see people at the post office or at the grocery store, I attend ceremonies, I'm involved just as all the other judges are; simply because we put on a robe during the day doesn't mean that that robe ever really comes off, but we also have to be able to be participatory in our communities. And it is, it's a hard balance, even with your legislative body because we all know each other, we've all grown up with one another possibly or they've seen you grow up and know your mother and there's this tendency of picking up the phone and saying, "˜Hey, what's going on and do you know da da da da da?' And it is, it's a really hard balance because of the close ties and the close knitness of the community and it's that community mentality that you have. But we work diligently to ensure that the people recognize that this is a very independent justice system. Now granted, in the case of Mississippi Choctaw, we're a two-branch government. The court system is developed by statute and is controlled, maybe that's not a good word, but is under the oversight of the tribal council as well as the executive. There've been times where it's been challenging because you wear two hats. Not only are you a member of the judiciary, but you have to be an advocate for the system, and so there's that give and take, development of codes. How can I not be somewhat participatory in the development when I'm the one who uses that code in order to...we're creating law basically, and there are several instances where it's almost a gray area that you enter, but knowing what the spirit of the law is and where we are as a judiciary and what we're trying to accomplish I think speaks volumes because the people see the separation. And it's something that you have to work at every day. You just, you have to."

Ian Record:

"So in your role as advocate for the system in strengthening the system, do you find yourself compelled at certain points to say to the legislature, "˜Look, there's...I'm dealing with these...this area of jurisprudence, these types of cases are becoming more prevalent. There's nothing on the books that tells me how to interpret these cases. It's up to you to get out in front of this,' as you mentioned, "˜and develop law that I can then enforce in the court system?'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly. One case in point is the Tribal Notice Act and that's very important, especially if you have two parties coming in and there's an issue that could possibly have a detrimental impact on the tribe, maybe possibly in regards to jurisdiction. And the tribe needs to know; the tribe needs to be noticed. And so we worked towards getting that on the books and we were successful. And it's a mechanism or a code that's been used a number of times. And so things of that sort, because you recognize or the people recognize the legislative body and executive body, they're dealing with so many different issues from economic development, healthcare, education, housing. There's not one person or one area that they're focusing in on. So I would not be doing my duty if I didn't bring things to their attention that I think could provide betterment for the system and also protecting the people as well."

Ian Record:

"So you're also, in addition to your experience, your 11 years as you mention serving on the Choctaw judiciary, you've since...you left that, your tenure with the judiciary, and you've been working to evaluate other tribal court systems. And I was wondering if you could speak to this issue. We discussed this recently about some tribes, some tribal leadership not really treating the judicial function of their nation as an independent...as an independent function, as a true arm of the government, whether you want to call it a 'branch' or what have you, but rather treating it as a program. And we hear this a lot from particularly tribal judges who lament that fact that, "˜We're just considered another program.' I was wondering if you could speak to that issue and what you're seeing on the ground."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yeah. And it's not so much with the work that I'm doing, but additionally with my participation with the national organization, the judges association, as well as my own experiences with Mississippi Choctaw. There's the thinking that tribal court systems are more situated or in the organizational things as a program, and either we fund you or we don't or...there's not that understanding of the importance of justice systems and how in regards to economic development, justice systems are key. And a lot...I've heard so many war stories about how we are treated as -- I hate to use the term -- as stepchildren. We get the hand-me-down equipment, we get the little bits of whatever is additional that we can get in our budget, but what I found throughout my work and my experiences with the judiciary is the fact that there are so many good people out there in Indian Country, members of their own tribe who want to provide a forum, a fair forum for their people and they work diligently with what resources they have. Now if it was a perfect world and we were able to get all that we want, that would be ideal, but it's not and a number of tribes who don't have the additional resources struggle, and for some of these tribes it's a really challenging thing because you're also not only at the mercy of the government, but at the community as well and there...if you don't feel that support from your government, then obviously the community's not going to support you as well and those are some key things that have to happen is to have that support. 'Now you and I may argue here, but when we step out as a judiciary and as a government, we need to be unified, because each of us as a legislative body and as an executive body and whether we're a judicial branch or a statutory court, we still have to work and maintain as a stable government,' because if your leadership is bad mouthing your judicial system, what does that say of the leadership?"

Ian Record:

"What does that say to the outside world?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly."

Ian Record:

"So this issue of treatment by the leadership, by the community of the justice system as a program versus something more, among those tribes that tend to treat them as the latter -- just as a program -- aren't they missing the boat essentially on the importance of justice systems as a vehicle for not only advancing sovereignty, but also creating viable economies on the reservations and pretty much all around?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly, because a lender who is thinking about doing business with the tribe is going to ask, "˜I need to know about your court system. I need to know where litigation is going to take place,' and if they can't see a system that is stable and consistent, you're possibly missing an opportunity to bring strong economic development to your area and that's key. I think a lot that has to happen is education. Now again, I go back -- I recognize there's so much that tribal government has to do. They're overloaded, they're understaffed in some instances, and they're trying to do the best they can do, but at the end of the day it's important to make sure that each of your areas of government are strong and are working together and that's where your checks and balances are. It's basic civics."

Ian Record:

"One other issue we discussed recently was this issue of...this treatment of tribal justice systems as nothing more than programs may emanate in part from this sense of, "˜Well, that's where the bad things happen.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yes."

Ian Record:

"...That's where, kind of the social ills bubble up, that's where the kind of the underbelly of the community, the negative parts. "˜We don't want to deal with that. It's too painful,' or 'We don't...we're at a loss as to how to resolve these issues.' How do you get beyond that mentality? How do you get to a point where -- as you've told me -- where the people, the community, that the leadership will treat the justice system as a vehicle for not only restoring, as you say restoring health to the community, but also as a way to, for instance, teach the values of the people to say, "˜This is how we operate, this is how we resolve disputes.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"One of the bad things or the negative side of the judicial system is the fact that a lot of things happen in the well of that court and at the end of it all, "˜It's the court,' "˜It's the court's fault,' or whatever it may be because it's surfaced, it has bubbled up as you said, it's surfaced and there it is black and white, right there in the well of that court. And ultimately it's the judge and their discretion as how they rule or decide or what it is that they end up doing for that particular case, whether it be a habitual offender, whether it be a family in need, a juvenile delinquent, a vulnerable adult. All of the social ills of your community hits right there and it is challenging more so again for your legislative body and your executive because what do they do, what can they do? We've developed so many different social programs, but we're not going to cure every ill, and unfortunately a lot of those things surface through court. And as I shared with you earlier, that's why we were looking at, in regards to Mississippi Choctaw, of other alternatives. We recognize these are social illnesses. This is not working, going through formal court. Something has to happen and it also has to happen not only with the individual, but with the family: accountability, responsibility, bringing in the people who matter the most to you and who you value, who are your mentors or your grandparents, your minister, your family to sit down and talk with you, help you in a peacemaking-type situation, a circle of sorts. Healing to Wellness [Court] is set up in that very same way, that we have there at Choctaw where the offender comes in, meets with a group of multi-disciplinary team and there's a check, there's this constant check, and we've had so many success stories come through there. Is it 100 percent? No, it's not, and it probably will never be, but there is an alternative, and with the one case that you have a success in, [it] ripples out to the family, to the community, to the nation in regards to the offenses, health issues that may have come from it, all the different things. And that success just can only breed more success because if you have this individual whose gone through this process, you see the community, see that individual being successful and others who are coming before the court say, "˜I want to try that because I'm ready to make that change,' then there's that vehicle."

Ian Record:

"So I would assume under the CFR system, there's no way that you guys could have developed these restorative functions."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"There is no way, no."

Ian Record:

"So essentially by developing your own court system, by taking ownership of that critical function, you provided yourself the freedom to say, "˜What's going to benefit our community in the long run? What's the best way of doing things, because the status quo is simply not working.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"No, it's not working and it doesn't work in Indian Country. And what may work for Choctaw, what may work for the tribes in the east may not work for tribes in the southwest or in the west or in the northwest or in the midwest or northeast. It works for us and looking at the different models you can see things that will work. There's this term I use, "˜Choctaw-izing it' -- making it your own, bringing in Choctaw values, culture, customary law into this model and it works, and it works, and the people understand it. That's the thing, the people say, "˜Hmmmm, yes, I know what you're talking about.'"

Ian Record:

"So can you give me just a...you mentioned this term 'Choctaw-izing' it. Can you give me one example, maybe one case of how the court system applied a core value of the Choctaw people to essentially try to bring that restoration to the community?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"As I shared with you earlier, we have a teen court process and in that process the individual, the juvenile delinquent goes through the formal youth court system. Teen court is more of a sentencing type court, but the uniqueness of it is they are judged, are sentenced by their peers, other teenagers in the community. We had a particular instance where there was this child who of course offended, committed a crime against the tribe, was found delinquent. The case wasn't or the offense wasn't to the level of the judge issuing the sentence so he transferred it to teen court and it went through the process, but the uniqueness is -- and this is where the cultural aspect came in -- is we had the judge bring the mother and the grandmother and auntie because we are a matrilineal society. And before the sentence was rendered by the peers, by the jury, the women stood up and they talked and they talked with both sides of the parties who were there -- because this was a boyfriend-girlfriend, teenager-type thing -- and how it was important to respect your family, respect your parents, to listen, and if that wasn't the most empowering thing along with their peers giving them the sentencing, I don't know what would be. It was so powerful and moving. And let me tell you, people sat up and took notice and you gave respect, you listened. And that's one instance where that...we were able to have that and that was just such a learning tool for our young people to sit there and go through that and to listen. Even though they weren't the offenders, but they knew exactly, they knew exactly. It was almost like a reawakening. "˜I know this, but we don't do it all the time,' and like, "˜Whoa!'"

Ian Record:

"So in that instance, the court was not even an intermediary between the community, the culture, and the issue at hand. They were actually just a mechanism for connecting those two."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Facilitating just basically, just putting those people and things together. And it's...one thing of...and when I first entered the court system I served as a youth court judge. And the one thing I would tell our kids, when they'd come before the bench and with that attitude, being rebellious, and "˜You can't tell me what to do,' is, "˜The offense you've committed, you think maybe committed against this particular individual or this particular family or to the school, vandalism, whatever.' I said, "˜But you're not hurting those particular individuals, you're hurting the tribe, and in essence you're hurting yourself. So what has to happen here is you have to make this right and you're making it right at the end of the day for yourself.' And for some kids it didn't click, of course being rebellious and angry and everything, but for some it did. They understood. And again, you never really had a lot of successes. You had some successes and statistically Native American Country and as well as in dominant society you knew that there were higher chances of your young people moving into the adult system, but we tried very hard and that's why we were looking at all these other alternatives. Many Native communities have such small memberships, and so when you have a lot of delinquency going on, number-wise it may not appear to be a lot, but there on the ground it's epidemic and that's one of the things governments need to recognize and why it's such an important thing to make sure that you're supporting and investing in all of these types of things that keep your system, your justice system strong, consistent and stable."

Ian Record:

"So what do you see as the major challenges facing tribal jurisdiction today?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, my goodness. That's something that tribes are facing all the time and it's amazing to me how we do have the jurisdiction that we do have. There have been challenges locally, and as I'm trying to think back here, we've had a number of cases that we've dealt with ourselves at Mississippi Choctaw where you have a civil matter that came before the court and they were running concurrently with the circuit court, the federal court. And it was an issue concerning a, it wasn't a loan company, a bank, it was a bank and a big problem with a salesperson going into the community and of the lender reneging of sorts -- just a really basic background of that case. And tribal members who had signed up for this service, which I believe was a satellite case, then did a class action against the lender. The party then went to the federal court, the federal court in turn sent the case back telling the parties that, "˜You have to exhaust tribal jurisdiction before you can even attempt to make it here,' which I think said a lot for not only our tribe, but for tribes in Indian Country to have a federal court say, "˜You have to exhaust all remedies before you even make it here.' Now you and I both know that that's not commonplace and I think that sent a very, very big message. Why would that have ever been decided? I think a lot of it had to do with the court itself because it was a functional court, it is a functional court, renders opinions, clear decisions and it's consistent. And I think that had a lot to do with why we were able or the federal court made the decision it made.

Now Indian Country, tribes in Indian Country are constantly faced with issues of jurisdictions and I can't speak so much for these other tribes, but just from the readings I've seen and in the issues that I've heard about, it's constant. For example, I know that there was a tribe in California that had the state come in wanting to look at employment records. If that wasn't a clear crossing of the line, a failure of respect of another sovereign, I don't know what is and that's clearly overstepping jurisdictional lines. But those types of things happen and that's where you really have to, as a government, make sure that you have the type of legal representation for yourself to protect you as a tribe because you have it coming from every angle, from every area of wanting to chip away at what jurisdiction you do have. It's bad enough that we don't have criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians and as a gaming tribe there's a lot of issues that we have to deal with and we're at the mercy of the county or we're at the mercy of the federal government and its system. It makes no sense to me. Logically, we know when, I know when I cross the boundary and I go into Philadelphia, if I commit a crime, I'm going to be dealt with in Philadelphia court. It's a no-brainer. And this is an issue that's been talked about time and time again. I know I'm not going to change it, but I'm going to give you my two cents. It sucks, it's not productive and there are people who agree. There are people on the outside who do agree that you should have the ability to incarcerate, to judge any individual who commits a crime, an offense against the tribe or this jurisdiction. And we don't have that ability. And then you have the civil jurisdiction, which is always being tested and it's just so important that when we have issues that come up through tribal court systems that as a judiciary you're giving well-thought-out opinions and it's iron-clad so that you can't...it won't be unraveled and then there you go, you've lost more jurisdiction."

Ian Record:

"And it's not just making the decisions, it's actually documenting those decisions and having those ready in an accessible fashion, and that's where it's important to build the system of justice not just have judges making decisions."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, exactly. You're exactly right because you have a lot of these systems that are in varying degrees of development and I am a big believer of having tribal members sitting on the court. Unfortunately, you don't have enough people who come to the court, come to the bench with a legal background. I'm not law trained. And so it's challenging and it's a struggle. Fortunately, our tribe made investments of having individuals on the bench with the juris doctorate providing us with legal technical consultation so that we're not standing there twisting in the wind, "˜Well, what do we do?' And so we're able to have this body of law, opinions that come from this court, that are guiding tools for not only us as a tribe, but also for other tribes should they wish to use it. I know that there are different companies or organizations who collect all of these opinions across Indian Country, which is good so that there is a body of law for other tribes to go in and take a look at and look at precedent and things of that sort. And we need more of that, but what we also need to do is be able to reach out and get this information to people. As I said earlier, you have a number of people whose systems are at varying degrees, tribes whose systems are at varying degrees and there are times where I think we do a disservice. Again, I am a big proponent for having tribal members on the bench, but you also have to be able to have someone there who is knowledgeable and can understand law, the analysis, the logic and to be able to generate really good opinions and good decisions. Are we right all the time? No, not necessarily, even those who have the jurisprudence isn't right all the time, but it's based on interpretation."

Ian Record:

"So it's really important then for tribes to invest in capacity in not only of people...tribal members who eventually will be judges, but also those clerks and other people in law enforcement."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Because let me tell you, those clerks are down on the ground doing all the work and there have been instances where I have seen they have ultimately become judges and they come in with all the knowledge of working every facet of that system in the sense of dealing with attorneys, looking at orders. It's amazing to me. Some of these clerks that I've talked with in my travels would say, "˜Yeah, I knew that wasn't what needed to happen.' It's just amazing the knowledge, the experience they gain and I have seen many instances where some of these clerks did step up or were appointed to serve as a judge and made excellent judges because they had the hands-on training and going through the process of the documentation, the order development and things of that sort. So it's key, it's very key in regards to having strong judges training and education."

Ian Record:

"So backing up a bit to what you were discussing a few minutes ago and this issue of...essentially, what you were talking about was transparency and jurisprudence, that it's not enough just to make decisions. You have to make sure that those decisions are clear, that they're open to not only the citizens of the nation, but to the outside world and that they're understandable and that they're accessible. Is that what Mississippi Choctaw has done? Is that what you're seeing other tribes starting to do? Are more nations really beginning to understand the importance of transparency in jurisprudence?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"For Mississippi Choctaw, yes, it's something that we strive for; it's not cloak and dagger, it's no big secret. Whatever decision is rendered and the opinion is generated, we had a procedure where we informed all arms of government, especially if it was something that was very critical, maybe a jurisdictional issue, something that would affect the tribe. They received notice, they received a copy of the opinion, and then in general opinions that were generated from the Supreme Court, that's 101. You need to get them to see this and also there may be messages in these opinions that say, "˜Look, this is how we ruled, but if we don't make changes to the body of the law that we have, we're going to hit this time and time again. You might want to think about it, but we're not telling you...we're not changing the law, we're not going to change this piece of legislation, but we want you to think about it.' And so it is, transparency is important. Again, going back to the issue of where tribal courts are and the varying degrees they are, those more established courts such as Navajo Nation have a large body of opinions and a body of law there that you can...I tap into it. I've tapped into that as well as Eastern Band of Cherokee -- your bigger, more established systems. And so you have that transparency there, but again it goes back to where the systems are in development."

Ian Record:

"I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about an ever-present dynamic in tribal jurisprudence and that is tribal politics and there's a reason why you're laughing. I assume you know exactly what I'm talking about."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"It's the bullseye right there."

Ian Record:

"But I wanted to get your sense of what you've seen in terms of the impacts of political interference in tribal jurisprudence and dispute resolution and essentially how far-reaching those things can be."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"There are many tribes that face this very question of political interference. And it's a hard line to walk, it really is. I think a lot of it has to do with who you are as a person and your integrity and what you yourself are willing to allow and not allow. And at the end of the day, just like I tell my children, "˜If it's an issue that you're really passionate about and you know this is what you need to do, sometimes you're standing by yourself,' and as judges that's ultimately what we end up doing is end up there standing by ourselves and telling whomever it may be, "˜No, you cannot cross this line.' Are there ramifications for those choices? Yes, in some instances there are. And that's unfortunate because of the messages that it sends not only to your community, but -- again as we talked about earlier -- to the outside world. If an individual makes a decision and in the eyes of the government it's perceived as a bad decision and it possibly wasn't in favor of what they wanted and they make sweeping change, who is going to want to step up and serve if there's the possibility of failing to comply or abide by what they're wanting. When you step up and become a judge, all of what you may have supported or your political views all fall by the wayside. Your primary concern is the interpretation of law, dealing with that case that's before you, that's it -- not what the politics are because they cannot be influential, they cannot be influential to what you're doing because if that's the case, then why have a court? Why not let the tribal council run the court? They want to, I know they do, but it's again checks and balances and the maintaining of independence. And I see it time and time again. I've heard so many war stories."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, we see some tribes that still have, particularly with those tribes that have Indian Reorganization Act systems of government where the standard constitution said, "˜The council can create a court system as it sees fit,' essentially and..."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, in our code it does state that. It says, "˜If funds are available,' and I thought, "˜Well, what does this mean?' But for the time that that code was developed, that's again going back to, "˜Well, is this is a system or is this a program?' It's clear even in our general provisions, "˜If funds are available, we will operate this court.'"

Ian Record:

"Yeah, some of those IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] systems you still see to this day where the root of appeal of a tribal court decision is back to the council."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"And we do have that in Choctaw in some instances. Example, if there's an election challenge the court has no...there's no venue in our area. It goes directly to the tribal council once it goes through the election committee. And there is a valid challenge then it's ultimately the tribal council which makes the decision whether to say, "˜Yes, this is a void election or no, it's not.'"

Ian Record:

"You mentioned a few minutes back the messages that are...the very clear messages that are sent when there is political interference and tribal jurisprudence and I was wondering if you'd maybe perhaps talk about that a little bit more specifically because you mentioned messages not only to the community but to the outside world. What kind of messages do those send when you do see that political interference? And perhaps how does that impact the tribe in the long run?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Oh, yes. It does not put tribal government in a very good light when you have that type of interference. Sometimes it comes across as being more of a dictatorship versus a democracy. It really makes greater society doubt in the ability of that government of being able to provide for the people true leadership. And I know as a sovereign nation there have been other tribes and this is just from my travels and visiting with other jurisdictions and sharing war stories. We are under such a microscope, not only the judicial system, but the overall tribal government in Indian Country. We are constantly being held at an even higher standard. Yes, we need to be at a high standard, yes, but it appears when there's just a small hiccup or a small misstep it's magnified 100 times. "˜Well, you see, that's why we don't deal with that tribe,' for whatever reason it may be and it could be miniscule, but for the outside world it's like waiting. They're lying in wait for you to trip and fall. Choctaw itself has had its ups and downs. There's not a tribe that hasn't. We've seen successes, we've seen challenges, but we continue to persevere because of our membership. We're not going anywhere. At one point we were the third top employer of the State of Mississippi providing economic development, providing income for this state and that speaks volumes. Now we're dealing with the issues of the economy, the national economy and the effects that it's having on our tribe and we're having to act and react to those things and it's not been favorable, but we also have to be sustainable for our people and there are hard decisions that we have to make and we've made those decisions, rightly or wrongly, whatever may be perceived on the outside world, as a sovereign we have to maintain for the people."

Ian Record:

"You mentioned this issue of outsiders are looking very closely at what tribes do and in many respects they're waiting for tribes to mess up and using it as an excuse to say, "˜Okay, either we don't want to deal with them or they shouldn't have sovereignty,' whatever it might be. And I think that's really where court systems are critical because in many respects they're the most tangible connection, the most visible reflection of what tribes are doing and what tribe's abilities are, what their capacity is, how they make decisions. Is that something you've experienced at Choctaw?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, very much so, very much so. We've been fortunate. Legal communities -- whether it's on the reservation or off reservation -- are small and word of mouth is very powerful. People know what's going on, whether they're on the reservation or not, they know what's going on and it's really key on how you bring these people in and how you...and also educating, educating them about what we are and who we are as a sovereign nation. One of the things that we provide as a system is a form of a bar meeting and providing them training, bringing to them things that are happening on the national level, educating them, and that's key -- going out and educating. And that's a lot of what I did as well during my time with the court. I've gone to Harvard, to Southern, to University of Southern Mississippi, to the University of Mississippi Law School, to Mississippi State [University], to a lot of the local universities within the state to talk about this very system. And they're so amazed at one, we're not just this casino that they see talked about on TV. Secondly, that there is a functional government, but what they're also very surprised at going back to what we've talked about earlier is the fact that there is no jurisdiction over non-Indians and that's always been the big, "˜Ah ha. Are you kidding me? How can that be if we're in this country of the land of the free and our constitution, our U.S. Constitution,' but that's what the cards we're dealt with. And that's how fragile these systems and governments are because I'm sure if the federal government wants to, and again looking at how governments are exercising their sovereignty or lack there of, they would be more than willing to come in there. It just says that we have to provide you with health and education, but it doesn't really say to what degree so I can...you'll take what I give you and that's where as sovereign nations we really have to be diligent about our exercise of government and of our sovereignty. We have to be. I know I sound like this...I sound like this caped crusader, "˜We've got to be. Somebody has to be at the gate and it's going to be me,' but there needs...there really needs to be more development of people who understand public service of giving back to the people and we've got to cultivate that."

Ian Record:

"So you've made references to the incredible growth of the Mississippi Choctaw's economy over the past several decades and I'll ask you a very blunt question. Could Mississippi Choctaw when it comes to economic development be where it is today if they, for instance had what's often referred to as a 'kangaroo court'?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"The short answer, no, I don't believe they could be. This system was and is, continues to be an evolving system and I think with the right leadership it was determined that there are certain things we're going to have to put in place in order to be successful and strengthening the court system was one of them. This system was taken into management of the tribe in 1985 and was operating with a very skeletal group of people and then they expanded the service. And then in 1997 there was another reorganization where they developed very distinct divisions of court. This would give the system the capacity to handle all civil matters. We had well over 1,000 people working for the tribe in the hospitality portion of it and of the industrial arm of it. The majority of these people were non-Indian. Where are civil actions going to take place? In our court if they're working for this tribe. You also had, once gaming came into play and tribal members were receiving per capita, a rush of people wanting to enroll and so our enrollment jumped by leaps and bounds from 3,000 to 4,000 to almost 10,000. And so you had to have the ability to handle all the issues that come with the economic growth and the court system and law enforcement are the people that deal with a lot of the day to day issues that come with that prosperity."

Ian Record:

"So in many ways the court system is the primary vehicle for managing growth for tribes."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I would say so. People may disagree but I would say so."

Ian Record:

"So I wanted to ask you a bit more about this issue of justice systems and how they maintain stability in law and order and how does that... how does the justice system at Choctaw provide that for the people?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Well, we've been fortunate that the tribe has taken over, like I said earlier, management of the law enforcement division. It's now the Department of Public Services, as well as the court system itself. The tribe itself has also contributed to our legal community and I include law enforcement in that and detention as well by providing legal counsel for the tribe. We have an attorney general's office that's set up as well as a legal defense, which is the equivalent of legal aid for individual tribal members and so we have a pretty diverse legal community there. This provides for the community, for the people the ability to be represented within our system, but not only within our system, should there be issues that occur off reservation they have the ability to use legal defense to represent them as well in issues such as maybe child support type issues if it's a non-Indian and Choctaw union and the marriage dissolved and there are challenges and things may end up taking place off reservation for whatever reason. Also, the ability if they need counsel in federal cases as well because you know as well as I do that there's always challenges there where the level of adequacy of representation at the federal level. We've seen time and time again where Native people have just not had proper representation, which also dovetails into the additional work that I do as a commissioner for the Mississippi Access for Justice, ensuring that all people have the ability to have legal representation for their issues. But for the people, just knowing that there's law enforcement, there's a police officer there who is not out there on his own. There's a strong department and when I call I know they'll be here not in three hours, maybe within 30 minutes or 15 minutes depending on the location because we are managing our own law enforcement. What does that say for the greater communities? We're able to assist them as cross-deputized officers, peace officers, to assist them with whatever issues may be taking place. Again, going back to jurisdictional issues, there's always, "˜Well, where are we? Are we on Choctaw land or are we on county land? Where are we?' And so it's a tough call at times. Sometimes somebody has to pull the map out and say, "˜Yeah, well, here's the line.' And so it speaks volumes as to partnerships that have to be developed and strengthened to show stability, for them to see the stability of this system. And it spills over even into the court. We had an instance where there was an issue off reservation with two tribal members being dealt with in the county court and the court was familiar with our peacemaking, Itti Kana Ikbi, court, our traditional form of court. And he called up our peacemaker and said, "˜Look, I have this issue here. I think that it should be better resolved...it could be better resolved with you and peacemaking.' That is unheard of for a county court to turn its jurisdiction over to a tribal court. Even I was taken aback. But societies are changing and there are times of tension in race relations, yes, we recognize that. And to see something like that happen only proves more to me that we as a people, not only tribal members, but as people are changing and recognizing that we are just as capable as our counterparts are and that also signals stability."

Ian Record:

"I think in that particular instance, part of to me is them probably saying, that county court judge saying, "˜Hey, those guys do things, they do it right, they... yes, they have their own systems, their own principles that they administer justice on, but they do it consistently, they do it fairly and I have confidence in turning this over knowing that they'll resolve this dispute in a good way.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And so that generated even more conversation and we have a very good rapport with the county courts and so there have been times where other issues, other instances have taken place, but that was just the turning point. And to be quite honest, I never would have thought I would have seen things like that happen in my lifetime. There's always been this sense of separation and I'm sure it is with other Indian tribes. "˜You're the Indian tribe, you're over there. Here we are metropolitan society. You do your own thing and we'll do our own,' but we're all members of the community, of our communities, and it's being able to interact with one another and working for the greater good of the entire people because don't forget, it's the people who are living outside that are probably working for the tribes on the reservation. So there has to be, whether they like it or not, there has to be a relationship."

Ian Record:

"Yeah, we hear this more and more often, this refrain from tribal leaders of, Native nations aren't islands and they can't act like there are. They can't exercise their sovereignty in isolation, that for them to advance their strategic priorities they're going to have to, of their own volition, build these working relationships with other sovereigns, with other jurisdictions, with other governments, with other municipalities in order to advance their priorities and create a better community."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Exactly, and I think that's what has been the successes of what has created an environment of success for our tribe, for Mississippi Choctaw, has been those relationships whether it's local, state or federal, having those relationships not only within your executive branches and legislative branches, but also within your judiciary. Maybe I was in the judiciary the fifth year of my tenure and I had the opportunity, and it was such a very moving moment, when I had the Chief Justice of the State of Mississippi and his associate justice come down. He came down to Choctaw and sat down and had a conversation with me, the Chief Justice of Choctaw Supreme Court, his counterpart to talk about, "˜How can we help one another?' And that's something that is...I couldn't even imagine that happening. And I shared with him... and we got to know one another and we've become good friends and I said, "˜It had to do with the people and the timing.' Everything just came and lined up and it worked. And so we were able...and we have and we've continued that relationship even with the new Chief Justice, that there continues to be and as well as my new counterpart, there continues to be this continuation of the relationship and it has to be. And it's good that it's now recognized."

Ian Record:

"A couple more questions here. This issue of...getting back to the issue of when you have a justice system creating this environment of stability, of law and order, of certainty, of essentially offering a fair forum for the resolution of disputes where people feel that, "˜If I need to go have a case heard, whether I'm an offender or the one that's the victim in this case, that it will be resolved or adjudicated based on the merits of that case.' Doesn't that send a pretty powerful message to not just those outside investors, but also to your own people that, "˜Hey, this is a place where I can come or I can remain and invest my time, invest my resources, invest my skills, my ideas and the future of the nation.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"One thing that I know people struggle with is understanding the system and once you enter in and begin going through all the different processes, they then realize how difficult it is to go through the court system per se. And it may have been designed specifically for that, because you certainly don't want frivolous actions coming before the court. You certainly don't want a manipulation of the system and so it's holding all parties accountable. And the messages that it sends to the people, I would hope, and that was always our hope, was that, "˜You will receive fairness here when you walk through these doors. You will see an individual there who is going to render justice, whether it's on your behalf or not, whether it's for you or it's not.' Of course when the person fails to get the decision they want, you have that as well. But I know that in my dealings with the legislative body, they recognize it as well and at times you have to let the community member vent. They're also your constituents and so you've got to let them vent, but also talking them through, "˜Well, this is what it is but you also have the ability to appeal,' which is the beauty of it all. There is still another forum to go to if you're dissatisfied and if it's a true error of law, then you do have another venue to go to. In some instances, most tribes don't have that luxury."

Ian Record:

"Several years ago we were talking with Norma Gourneau, she was...at the time she was the vice chair at Northern Cheyenne, and they were dealing with this issue of...the court judges were just getting steamrolled by councilors every time...they were having a big issue for instance with automobile repossessions by off reservation dealerships and these off reservation dealerships would get a default on a car loan, they'd come on the reservation to get the repo order enforced so they could actually come on the reservation and pick up the car. The tribal member who was in default would go to a council member and say, "˜Oh, I need my car.' The council member would lean on the judge, the judge would rule on the tribe's behalf. Before long nobody's selling cars to tribal members. And so what she said was they put a fix in there. They did a constitutional reform, they insulated the court from political interference and she said, "˜What I found was I had a lot more...I found myself empowered because I wasn't dealing with those issues anymore. I could now...I wasn't putting out those fires of having to interfere in the court system so now I could focus on what was really important for the tribe, which was where are we headed, where are we going and how do we get there?' Is that...do you see that as an important dynamic to have when the court system is insulated from that essentially liberates elected leaders to focus on those things?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"I wish there was more of a way to make that happen for all of us because we all deal with those...again, it goes back to what we talked about earlier -- political interference -- and again it's up to you as an individual of your integrity whether you allow it or not. Yes, they can be pretty quick to apply pressure on you. Yes, we've dealt with those types of things. It was always astonishing to me when a vendor would call and say, "˜Well, this is happening and I'm not getting service, I'm not getting the court system to react quickly enough.' And our council would be so quick to step up for those vendors and I'm like, "˜You have to allow the process to take its paces. It has to go through its paces. You can't speed anything up for anyone in particular. It doesn't matter, it just does not matter.' But yes, we have experienced in the past where because you had a number of tribal members defaulting on a lot of things, businesses begin then questioning, "˜Well, do I really want to do business with a Choctaw?' Not so much about the judicial process itself, but if I'm not going to be getting my money back or if I'm not going to get paid for whatever service I render, is it worth my time? Which is a much bigger question, but going back to insulating yourself, we as a judiciary, as many judiciaries, have canons of ethics and it depends on what those things mean to you. The legislative body as well as the executive body, unfortunately in our instance, don't have canons of ethics and...but those are to me things that are internal. You should have those types of ethics. You should know that it's not proper to go to the judge to say, "˜Change your decision.' It's not proper. You would feel...if there were clear lines of language that said, "˜No, you cannot approach the court,' then the atmosphere would be different. The atmosphere would be very different. Yes, there are tensions, there are questions, "˜Well, what's going to happen with the impact of this decision I've made? How is that going to affect possibly my appointment? Will I still be here in four years?' But if there were that...if there was the ability to have that happen where language could be developed and there were clear separations, you would be able to be in a position to judge more effectively without the fear of repercussion. You would. It's bad enough you have a lot of other things that you have weighing on you as a judge, to have that extra layer put on you and the sad thing is it's your own people, these legislative members are also your members, members of your community and of your tribe. I've heard one councilman tell me...he told me once, there was a case that was being dealt with and he was insistent on trying to get involved, to come in. And I said, "˜It's clear in the code, you can't stand as an advocate. It's clear in the code that you cannot post bond for this...bail for this individual.' And he would tell me real quick, "˜Well, out in this county I'm able to call the judge and da da da da da.' And I said, "˜Well, you know what, that's that court system, not here.' Needless to say, he wasn't my friend anymore, but that's the whole point of it. It's where your integrity lies and you have to. But again, it's also educating, educating the legislative body because of the evolution, the changes of a justice system, what justice systems mean, fairness and that, "˜No, you can't go and ex parte the judge.' It's about fairness and not so much about control. And that's the problem, it is an issue of control."

Ian Record:

"So the tribal code for Choctaw prohibits elected officials from, I guess, involving themselves in court cases in certain respects."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, that's correct. If I as a tribal member would ask a councilman to come in to serve as an advocate or a speaker on their behalf of sorts, it's not allowed. They're not allowed to post bail or bond for anyone. It's right there in black and white, but they still continue to try to do that. I've always told my staff, the judges, when we look at the canons of ethics, "˜It's there to protect you so use it,' tell them that this is what the canons of ethics tell us in regards to appearance of impropriety, of political influence and things of that sort. That's what it's there for. And it's a struggle, it is a struggle and this is something that I know a lot of tribes face, a lot of judges face. It's a hard...it's a hard line to walk because again you are a member of the community, you do not have the ability to blend in with the general populace. It just doesn't happen. Like I said, for our tribe, we're a membership of almost 10,000. We have on the reservation over 6,500 people."

Ian Record:

"Do you think part of it, when elected leaders feel that impulse to interfere on behalf of a constituent, that they maybe haven't gone through the paces perhaps as you've termed it to think, "˜What's the long-term implication of my action here? Because I might be helping,' because that's their feeling, "˜I'm helping this person. I'm helping this person, but am I really helping the nation in the long run because this is going to be the ramifications of this. There's a ripple effect to what I'm doing.'"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Yes, and you're exactly right. I know in some instances their intentions are good, their intentions are good, they do want to help their constituent. They feel that someone needs to step up for them, someone needs to represent them, and maybe for whatever reason the different programs may not be able to help that particular individual, for instance, a vulnerable adult, an elderly person who may be being taken advantage of with his grandchildren taking the monthly check. And so I can see that, but when you don't allow the process to happen and if you don't follow the letter of the law, then the messages that it sends out is that, "˜Well, you can change the rules whenever you want,' and you can't do that. The rules are the rules for everyone, whether you're the community member, whether you're a member of the council, whether you're the chief, the rules are the rules. And although some people may think they might be able to change those rules; that's where the strength of your judiciary is the test not to allow those things to happen. I know within...in Indian Country those things happen where they're tested all the time. Like we talked earlier about jurisdictional issues, everyone is coming at you from different angles and let me tell you, being...living the life of a judge is not an easy thing. It's rewarding at times because you're providing a service to the people, the successes that you see make it worth all that you have to go through, but the political side of it can be at times very disheartening, very discouraging because you're having to deal with this mountain of things that are coming at you and you're trying to do the best you can do for your system. And sometimes people just don't see it the way you see it and it's trying to reach consensus with people, to get them on your side, get them to understand. Education, it's...it always goes back to education, teaching the membership, teaching the legislative body what these systems are all about and how important it is because at the end of the day that's going to be what makes you successful as a people, as a community. For me, it's always been my philosophy that tribal courts are the guardians of sovereignty. It's our job to make sure that we protect this sovereign through the well of the court, through this legal system and it's something that when you take on this judgeship, it's not about the notoriety, it's about what you provide, what you bring to the bench and the protection of the sovereign. That's the bottom line of all of this." 

Honoring Nations: Rae Nell Vaughn, Dan Mittan, Henderson Williams, Andrew Jones, and Hilda Faye Nickey: The Choctaw Tribal Court System

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Representatives from the Choctaw Tribal Court System present an overview of the court system's development to the Honoring Nations Board of Governors in conjunction with the 2005 Honoring Nations Awards.

Resource Type
Citation

Jones, Andrew, Dan Mittan, Hilda Faye Nickey, Rae Nell Vaughn, and Henderson Williams. "The Choctaw Tribal Court System." Honoring Nations Awards event. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Tulsa, Oklahoma. November 1, 2005. Presentation.

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"[Choctaw language] Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Harvard Project for giving us this opportunity to participate in this exercise. It's really been an education for all of us. Before we begin our presentation, if I could have the group step here into the light. They're off to the wing there. I'd like to introduce members of the Choctaw delegation who are here and also in the audience. We have with us Senior Peacemaker, Mr. Henderson Williams; Andrew Jones, who serves as Diversion Coordinator under the Court Services Department. We also have Senior Judge Hilda Nickey, who serves as the Youth Court Judge. And we also have somewhere, there on the opposite end of the stage, Mr. Dan Mittan, who serves as Director of Court Services.

I'd also like to take a moment and recognize and introduce to the audience and to the board of governors here our tribal council members from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and if they would stand to be recognized please. The light is pretty bright and I'm having a hard time in seeing them. We have Councilman Mr. Charlie Nickey from the Conehatta Community; Mr. Tony Martin, representative of the Tucker Community; Mr. Ronnie Henry, representative of the Boque Chitto Community; Ms. Phyliss Anderson, representative of the Red Water Community, also serving as Secretary and Treasurer for the tribal council, Mr. Kevin "Jody" Edwards, who also serves as our chairperson for judicial affairs and representative of the Standing Pine Community; and last but not least, Representative Troy Chickaway of the Conehatta Community. Could we give them a round of applause? They have been quite supportive of the Choctaw Tribal Court System. At this time Chief Lyons it's my honor and privilege to present to you the Choctaw Tribal Court system."

[Video: "...Band of Choctaw Indians is purposefully weaving innovation with the traditions, customs and values that are Choctaw. In this significant way they are 'Keeping it Choctaw'. The Choctaw Tribal Court is a court of general jurisdiction that handles cases involving crime, delinquency and child welfare including violence and victimization issues. The court also handles civil matters involving personal and commercial conflicts or disputes. Some of the contributing factors that exacerbate the above case types include substance abuse, poor economic conditions, social justice problems and stressful family and parent/child relations. To address the above cases and contributing factors the Tribal Court established a Teen Court and a Peacemaking Court. Through these specialized efforts the court has unique opportunities to apply culturally relevant and appropriate philosophy, methods and approaches drawn from the Choctaw culture to more effectively handle the needs of children, youth and families affected by crime and delinquency or involved in civil conflict or disputes. Additionally, the court employs two strategies to further support and culturally enhance the day-to-day operations, the internship program and an Indigenous law library. Let's take a quick look at these four outstanding efforts from the Tribal Court of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians that not only helped us sustain it but by focusing on the guiding principles that are Choctaw ways are truly, 'Keeping it Choctaw'." / Hilda Faye Nickey: "Several years ago we decided it was time to not only preserve the wisdom of our elders but to better educate our younger generations of our tribal and founding values by the use of technology available today. We are more than we had anticipated. Probate law is just one important example of our traditional ways of caring for one another in the time of a relative passing have a powerful impact on Choctaw families. We are excited about the potential influence this Indigenous law library project will have on the Choctaw Tribal Court System and our people." / "The Choctaw Indigenous law library perpetuates the foundational Choctaw principles of tribal life by compiling and archiving videotaped interviews with the elders of the tribal community. The elders are speaking in the Choctaw language and there is translation in English for the non-speaker's benefit. Present day situations are the topics for discussion such as the disciplining of children, the qualities that establish a good home within the community, how family and community disputes should be resolved and even how the planting and harvesting of crops are closely linked to times of forgiveness, reparation, restoration and renewal. This oral survey method of validation and discovery is renewing and further establishing tribal ways that are critical to the tribal court for ensuring cultural relevance, appropriateness and competence in judicial practice. It has the potential to reimage the entire tribal court to be more reflective of the Choctaw as Indian people when referenced by the legal community and the public. Every case type, criminal, juvenile, civil and especially peacemaker is benefiting from the outcomes of this project. The practice can be readily duplicated by other tribes for the development of further oral surveys, compiling databases and even developing guidebooks for other cultural documentation. This invaluable resource demonstrates how advanced technology can be effectively used to preserve elder wisdom while promoting Choctaw culture on all paths of life 'Keeping it Choctaw'." / Rae Nell Vaughn: "We know that the children and youth of the tribe are our future. We know that we must provide opportunities for them to obtain skills and knowledge that will take us to an even better way of life while still preserving our culture, who we are. Mentoring is probably the oldest form of education known and it is still very effective. Our summer internship program is a continuing effort by our Tribal Court System that provides invaluable, hands-on experience for committed youth as they shadow our court staff." / "Designed primarily for Choctaw college and high school students the summer internship with the Choctaw Tribal Court System is assisting in the advancement of a qualified tribal workforce. With exposure to historical and significant court and government proceedings at all levels, these young people have a unique opportunity to see government in action. The ultimate goal is to hire these students in any tribal government position guaranteeing true Choctaw self-determination and ensuring the use of traditional and customary law to be the guiding tenets of how tribal government operates. The interns shadow staff in all offices and positions of the court, appreciating that the traditional roles for staff of being a family and community member do not end because one wears a tie or a robe. Submitting a research paper with an oral presentation encourages necessary communication skills for later employment. Visits to other courts and governments also provide a cross-cultural exchange with interns witnessing for themselves how the other systems interact and interface with the Tribal Court System. These meetings in turn demonstrate to government agencies the importance of practicing good intergovernmental relations as we all influence one another and should hold community as a value of highest esteem. Interns understand that the interweaving of tribal knowledge with academically acquired knowledge strengthens Choctaw law systems and advances good government practice while 'Keeping it Choctaw'." / Henderson Williams: "Peacemaker court is based on Choctaw ways we have researched through historical accounts of tribal life, learning the way things were done in Choctaw villages. Cases are sent to Peacemaking from child courts when opposing parties agree to discuss the conflict between them. They arrive at their own common agreement to permanently solve it. This is truly win-win situation. All can be resolved without the lengthy trial court process through Peacemaking." / "Ittikana Ikbi, Peacemaker Court, is an alternative venue within the Tribal Court System to the common adversarial court setting. Confidentially conducted by one of the two Peacemaker judges, each proceeding zeroes in on applying foundational Choctaw values with uncommon methods for application. In fact, the room being built in the new justice center designated for Peacemaking sessions will have no corners. Circular in design it supports and promotes holistic and collective Indigenous approaches to problem solving. Conflicts usually affect more lives than just the obvious ones so Peacemaking is a comprehensive method of dealing efficiently with even the contributing factors that aggravate these surface concerns. Once exposed, the remedies can be found and plans made for healing, damages repaired, relationships restored and all parties possessing a better understanding of the part of the solution that they own. Besides reducing costs by eliminating attorney fees and all the paper involved in the adversarial system, peacemaking methods have been effectively applied in human resource matters and in political settings where disagreements can divide a community. The wise use of customary laws and traditions are being applied to current realities. The legal professionals, including law enforcement, rely on Ittikana Ikbi with frequent referral restoring it as the primary source for solving conflicts occurring in the tribal community. The senior Peacemaker Henderson Williams points out, 'This becomes a major accomplishment when the end result sustains families, brings relief to stressful situations and preserves friendships. This is 'Keeping it Choctaw.'" / Choctaw teenager: "I have been working with Teen Court for two years now. I was scared at first not knowing what to expect but I knew some of the others that were participating so I joined. It has been a challenge so far but I really enjoy it. We learn about how real court works by doing the jobs ourselves and we know that it is a real case so we know it is very important to do the jobs well." / "Choctaw Tribal Teen Court is designed as a diversion for juvenile offenders that would otherwise enter the formal youth court and be placed on probation. A juvenile offender stands before his peers for an age appropriate disposition that many times includes an immediate verbal apology to the parents. Often a lengthy embrace comes next with tears. This kind of restorative justice just doesn't happen in the adversarial setting and is a clear application of the foundational Choctaw principles of tribal life. Though this jury and all other positions except for the judge is made up of young but well trained Choctaw teens, their demonstrated wisdom is proven well beyond their apparent youth and supposed innocence. One of the unique aspects of the structure of Teen Court is that an offender is required to serve on a jury at least twice. When they listen to others with the same problems, compose age-appropriate dispositions side-by-side with other teen volunteers that are already living responsibly, as well as perform community service work and attend additional training on social problems together, they become a valued part of a worthwhile endeavor making significant changes in their own way of life, an outcome of Choctaw teens mentoring Choctaw teens. Several programs are involved with the training and several of our participants are entering the Tribal Court Summer Internship Program. Finally, recognition for service performed is a critical part of the positive environment established through Teen Court as recognition banquets are held twice a year. Teen Court provides juvenile offenders the safe pathways needed to achieve restoration through Choctaw methods of apology and forgiveness and familiarity with other Choctaw principles. That's 'Keeping it Choctaw'. Through these four works the determined weaving of innovation with the traditions, customs and values that are Choctaw is resulting in a path to Indigenous justice that secures the peace and dignity of all within the tribal community. The Tribal Court System of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is unwavering in its commitment to serve the Choctaw people yesterday, today and in the future. [Cherokee language]. Thank you.]

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"I'll begin with the questions. I can tell you we were all very, very impressed with your program and especially the Teen Court Program. It's marvelous that not only have you brought that level down to children to get them to take responsibility for their lives but you've given them the tools to be able to do so. And I, as I was watching this I was wondering in my head whether or not the program actually included a way for children who were defendants to be integrated into the judging process and your video explained that nicely. So thank you for that. I do have a question and that is related to the support that the court gets form the tribe in general, obviously you've got quite a turnout from your tribal council and that speaks volumes and that's really wonderful but you've been struggling to get into your building for a number of years. What's up with that?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Who should I defer that question to? It has been one that has been a challenge for us and that's more of an issue for the executive and legislative branches to answer. I don't know how else we can define that, but we have been progressing as well as we can with the tools that we have and it's quite evident with the work that we're doing and yes they are very supportive. I think like any other tribe we have pressing priorities. Everyone is a priority. The court is not any higher than our health needs, our education needs, we're all a priority to the council, and I have great confidence and faith that we will get that building completed and we will be in there and we will be able to provide more services and forums for our membership and for the members of our communities."

Heather Kendall-Miller:

"If I may just ask a quick...another question. One of the things that I was intrigued about as well in the success of your court system is the relationship that your tribal court has with the state court system. I assume it's one of mutual respect. Has there been a rocky road in the past in that regard or is there a relationship now in which both courts give full faith and credit to each others' decrees?"

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Well, I think that there has been somewhat of a challenge with our relationship with the state. However, we were able to have a very historical meeting this past summer at our Justice Symposium, the first opportunity for the Supreme Court of the State of Mississippi and for the tribal Choctaw Court System to meet, which again speaks volumes of this relationship, knowing of the history of the State of Mississippi, knowing the history of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, to have had this opportunity and to have that mutual respect for one another I think speaks volumes. We've had other occasions and opportunities however for this formal opportunity was one that we...I would never have expected to see it and it has happened. I'd also like to have Henderson Williams, our Peacemaker, who would like to also join in and answer."

Henderson Williams:

"In response to that question, it brings to mind just recently the very first time this has ever happened, county court referred a case to Ittikana Ikbi, the Peacemaker Court. There was a case where part is involved in the county court, the state court, had conflicts and the judge referred that case to our peacemaking court. This is something that has never taken place and I believe we have started a good association with the county and the state in that we are working on this case. If we can resolve it and maybe other cases will come along and I'm looking forward to a continued relationship with the county, with the state, particularly in my field that is in peacemaking. Thank you for that question."

JoAnn Chase:

"I join Heather in congratulating you on an outstanding court system. I was particularly struck also by the teen court and the innovative nature of the teen court, and was wondering if maybe you might expand a little bit on some of the information that was provided in your video. I'm particularly curious about the opt-in process and thought that that was quite unique and innovative and would like to hear just a little bit more about that. And then, and similarly perhaps some of the impacts, if you might expand a little bit if you have any kind of...the impacts of the teen court, for example lower recidivism rates, any possible statistics you might be able to share with us as well regarding that impact in the youth community."

Rae Nell Vaughn:

"Okay. What I'd like to do at this time is defer that question to Andrew Jones, who is our diversion coordinator and who runs our teen court."

Andrew Jones:

"As for the recidivism rate, I can honestly say that with the teen program we've only had one child to actually come back to be sent back to the former youth court. And as for the expanding it, just recently we started, we actually placed teen court in the schools because the schools [were] having, they're having problems with their own issues and instead of bogging the former youth court down we decided to use teen court with it instead of just actually using the former youth court."

Dan Mittan:

"If I could...I'm not sure that we understood the first part of your question. Was it about the opting in? What was that?"

JoAnn Chase:

"Yes, it was. It was about the opt-in process. I was referring to some notes and I just was wondering if you might expand a little bit on that process and if it was exercised regularly and so on, and if you wouldn't mind doing that that would be really helpful. Thank you."

Dan Mittan:

"I'm still not sure I understand but...except that the juvenile offenders, this is a diversion, so instead of going into the formal youth court program they're diverted out into this and then as a part of that they have to serve at least two times on the jury. Well, in the middle of all this training just to partake in the process of being...serving on the jury the training sessions are so interactive so that they find themselves in a different peer group and we think that because of that relationship building within that peer setting they find new friends, things maybe that they thought they were like before and then they realized when they actually rub shoulders with them and work on projects together they're not like that and so we're seeing bridges crossed even between the little groups amongst the teens. And I would just further add that we end up then, those kids, once their time with teen court is over with, they actually come back to say, 'Hey, I want to be a prosecutor this time or I want to be the defense attorney.' So it really is a perpetuating thing."

Theresa M. Pouley: Reclaiming and Reforming Justice at Tulalip

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Tulalip Tribal Court Chief Judge Theresa M. Pouley shares the long-term, positive effects of the Tulalip Alternative Sentencing Program on the Tulalip tribal community.

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Pouley, Theresa M. "Reclaiming and Reforming Justice at Tulalip." Emerging Leaders Seminar. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. March 26, 2008. Presentation.

"I am Theresa Pouley. I'm a judge. I've been a judge for a long time, only in tribal courts. That's the only place I ever wanted to be a judge. And I've been a tribal court judge for ten years; six of those years were as the chief judge of the Lummi Nation. So that almost is a credential all in itself. I'm honored to be here today. I rarely get to speak in front of so many council people. It's not a good spot for a tribal court judge, usually. I'm honored to be associated with Tulalip's tribal court. I was really honored and humbled to be awarded High Honors at the Honoring Nations program for a tribal court program. I'm here to share that experience with you today about Tulalip's alternative sentencing program and hopefully we can learn some lessons from it.

Every day I think about Tulalip and its justice system. Most judges in tribal courts think about those issues all the time. At Tulalip, whenever I think about it and whenever I give a presentation like this, I always stop for a second and see if I can come up with a pearl of wisdom from our ancestors. So today I thought about it and there's an old Shenandoah proverb that I think fits Tulalip's alternative sentencing program. It says, 'It's no longer enough to cry peace. We have to act peace, live peace and live in peace.' So when I think and talk about the alternative sentencing program I always do it in those three ways. How do we act peace? Let's talk about the history of Tulalip. Where did they get to where they are today? Let's live peace. What's Tulalip doing now that's different and useful in resolving some of the issues that are facing our communities? And the last one is how do we live in peace? What are the lessons that we learn from that so we can move into the future?

So let's start with the history. And I like to go way back when I talk about Tulalip. I read a bunch of stuff about Tulalip -- I'm actually a Colville tribal member, which is a cousin on the other side of the mountains in Washington State. So I went about the business of learning about Tulalip. Tulalip is historically a fishing community. That's why that picture is up there and it always reminds me of who I speak. They were a very peaceful people. All of their disputes were resolved by families or resolved by the elders in their communities and almost every Indian agent, non-Indian person who came to Tulalip said the exact same thing. They're a peaceful people. Now just like all the rest of the Indian nations -- and that includes everyone that you're at -- that was pretty badly interrupted in the late 1800s. And Tulalip's system of problem solving went from that dispute resolution that was family and community based to being a system based on punishment and prison. Doesn't make any difference what tribal jurisdiction you're from because the United States Supreme Court decided in Ex Parte Crow Dog, which sort of took all of Indian nations and put us on the same page, that the way that we did justice wasn't right; that we needed to do it in a system where there was a trial, where there was consequences and where there was punishment. Now the results are exactly the same. In 1999, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, for the very first time, came out with crime statistics in Indian Country. And for all of you as leaders you know them; you live them every day. We have two times the rate of violent victimization of Indian women in Indian Country than in any other population. We have two times the rate of tribal members in jail for drug and alcohol-related offenses. We have two times the rate of alcoholism that causes, and as a matter of fact as high as, seven out of 10 violent crimes are caused while our relatives are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Those are alarming statistics. And it doesn't make any difference if you are living in South Dakota or you're living on the Tulalip reservation, it's the same for all of us. That's the consequences of a system of punishment and prison. Tulalip in particular had sort of a double whammy. Washington's a Public Law 280 state so not only did we have the federal government coming in and dictating how we were going to take care of problems in our community but we also had the state government coming in. So not only did we have the feds prosecuting and putting people in jail from a punishment and prison perspective but we also had the State of Washington coming in and taking tribal members and punishing them and putting them in jail. And 57 percent of the Native Americans who were actually put in jail because of a drug- and alcohol-related crime are going to be back in jail within that same year.

So Tulalip, who was really spurred by its economic development -- I don't if any of you, have any of you been to Tulalip? They have the most beautiful facilities. They have a beautiful casino, an outlet mall; they have a Walmart. That's pretty exciting in Indian Country. So they took this economic development and rather than paying it out to tribal members in per capita said, "˜We can do this better. Enough is enough. We're tired of tribal members going to jail. We're tired of a concept of prison and punishment so we're going to take it over.' In 2001, so this is just seven years ago, Tulalip retroceded all of its criminal jurisdiction from the state of Washington. And that's a big deal. Tribal court went from [a] one-day-a-month court system to 1,100 cases almost overnight. In 2001, when those cases started coming in, my boss was the chief judge at Tulalip and he did what we're trained to do as lawyers in developing tribal court systems. He implemented a system that gives everybody due process, notice and an opportunity for a hearing and guess what was happening? You can't take the state system of punishment and prison and put it in a tribal community and expect different results. And fortunately for me, my boss knew that. So he started changing the system just a little bit at a time. He would sentence people, suspend that sentence and then of course require they get drug and alcohol treatment, education, GED and then of course send them on their way. A year later they'd come back for a criminal review and guess what, they didn't do any of that stuff, right?

So that's the second one. How do you live that peace? So what did Tulalip differently? Judge [Gary] Bass just started hauling everybody in every 30 days. There's a joke at Tulalip that if you come to tribal court, get a divorce, we're going to give you a UA [urinalysis]. Want to write a will? We're going to give you a UA. You're in trouble?We're going to give you a UA. Why would you do that? Because it's absolutely critical to address the underlying cause of the crime, and the underlying cause is unresolved drug and alcohol abuse in over 80 percent of the cases at Tulalip. So you've got to identify it early so if you do a UA, you can suddenly see if somebody has a substance-abuse issue because Tulalip is right on the I-5 corridor, there's lots of drugs that are available on the Tulalip reservation. Meth is one that just scares absolutely everybody in the community.

So you've got to figure it out. If you come in and you actually are arraigned because you're accused of a crime, you will have to take a UA. Now we won't use it against you -- as the judges -- but we want to know, are you using drugs? Do we need to get you treatment? And we'll have a CD [chemical dependency] evaluation done before you even get to trial. If you go into custody in the jail, because you're a danger to the community or to yourself, you're going to get a CD evaluation while you're in jail [because] we want to know what the underlying cause of the problem is. You're going to come to court every 30 days and you're going to answer to the judge. And you're not just going to answer in a bad way. So when you say, Judge Pouley, "˜I did the best I could to get to my CD evaluation but I missed it.' Judge Pouley's not going to say, "˜Okay, go to jail for the next six months,' [because] that doesn't work. I'm going to say, "˜Okay, go get your CD appointment, bring me back the card and come back to court today,' because we have to engage people in that process. Tulalip's alternative sentencing program and alternative sentencing idea is to hold individual offenders accountable for getting better. 'Do you have a job?' 'No.' 'Okay, well, before you come to court two weeks from now you bring me some proof that you stopped at the TERO office or that you stopped to get your GED or that you're doing job training and if you do, I'm going to tell you good job from the bench,' because you want to encourage the positive and have immediate consequences for the negative behavior.

Now that expanded at Tulalip, because we still had a variety of people who were sort of our revolving door of justice people. You know who they are. The ones who come in three or four or five or six times in a year because despite our best efforts, they just can't kick a disease. It's recognition that it's a disease, that a judge can play a crucial role in diagnosis and treatment of a disease. In 2005, the chief of police at Tulalip looked around and said, "˜Wow, this is working.' So he didn't ask the chief judge. He went to the tribal council and he told the tribal council that they should plan a drug court, that they should require all of the departments at Tulalip to come together to plan a court system that was responsive to the needs of their community. And in 2005 the tribal council, the board of directors at Tulalip, passed that resolution. Chief judge didn't say, "˜Oh, no. We're not going to hear that resolution from the tribal council.' Chief of police didn't say, "˜Oh, no. We're not going to send anybody.' We all have the same problems and we all need the same solutions. So Chief Judge [Bass] and I went about the business of coordinating those meetings. And out of that a wellness court was born.

Now you just have to change everything, right? So you can't have a system of punishment and prison. You have to have a system of praise when you do a good job and accountability, immediate consequences when you don't. You have to have goals for your individual clients. You have to call them clients and not defendants. You have to change the whole way you think about the system and the wellness court really was sort of the final vehicle to do that. The wellness court is a group of people who sits and meets once a week about all of our clients in the wellness court. It includes everybody. It includes CD treatment providers, mental health providers, domestic violent perpetrator, treatment providers, but it also includes GED, job training, Northwest Indian College, casino employment, TGA who grants licenses. All of these people come together once a week to ask this very simple question. How do we help our client get better? It's a pretty amazing tool, but it's only amazing if you take the very last step. And at Tulalip we sort of did it backwards but we gave it a name. It's called [Tulalip language] -- the court giving the means to get stronger. If all of the people involved in the justice system have that perspective, it fundamentally changes the way that business gets done. It's not a western-style court system transplanted on the Tulalip reservation. It's a Tulalip court system to try and help all of our relatives get better. It's a pretty big change in just the way you think about things. And even though I'm a Colville tribal member, I have to tell you this, I've got plenty of relatives on the Tulalip reservation and that's true for most of us. Everyone in our communities is our relatives and you have to be vested in helping them get stronger.

So what's the last thing? How do you live in peace? What's the lessons we learn from it? First thing you guys are probably going to ask me is, 'Does it work? If you just change everything, does it actually work?' Well, interestingly enough, Tulalip's only been hearing cases -- remember I said -- since 2001. So in seven years, 1,100 cases we started. We had less than 400 criminal filings last year. That means it works. The number of repeat offenders at Tulalip is down 25 percent each year for two years running -- changing the way that we do business. This year in 2007 -- and I just did the statistics, I never thought this could happen -- that the number of criminal cases filed went down another 12 percent, because people are figuring out that the court's going to hold you accountable. So don't make any mistakes about that. If you're not doing what I asked you to do, you are going to spend some time in jail. But the goal of it is different. It's not punishment. It is a time for you to be individually accountable on a short-term basis. So you give me a positive UA, you go to jail for a day, not for six months. I don't know anybody who ever learned how to be clean and sober in jail. But you can sure teach that lesson if you use it as a tool.

So 12 percent decrease in crime just between 2006 and 2007, and then we had a really interesting thing happen. Our number of civil cases -- which is cases where people don't go to jail, cases where you come to resolve child custody disputes, get child support, where you want to sue for damages -- guess what happened to those? For the very first time in 2007 they were higher than our criminal cases. Now why does that matter? A lot of people say, "˜Well, geez, that just means you have to go to court and court's a terrible place.' No, because at Tulalip you can choose. You can go to tribal court if you want or you can go to state court. You don't have to come to tribal court. Six hundred and one people, 601 tribal members last year voluntarily came to tribal court instead of going to state court. Well, that's a big deal. Some of those 601 people came to get restraining orders or filed civil suits against each other instead of beating the crap out of each other. That's a good day.

So not only do you have a decrease in crime and an increase in the number of civil cases, but do you know that 80 percent of the criminal case load at Tulalip, so about 400 cases, 80 percent of those have a current drug and alcohol evaluation? Almost all of them are compelled into treatment. And the amazing thing is when people start into treatment you get so much information. Most people don't choose to be drug or alcohol addicted. There are mental health issues that need to be addressed, so almost all of our clients in wellness court also are seeing mental health counselors and they're resolving issues that are maybe centuries old. You also have to make sure that you get people a job.

My favorite sort of success story at Tulalip actually is about a person. So we took in wellness court, [Tulalip language], the hardest of the hard core: people who had had two or more cases filed a year and had been unsuccessful in probation in six years. And in 2006, no, 2007 -- last year -- we had two graduates, people who had been clean and sober for 18 months who are now working when they never worked before. We have one young lady who just moved into the fifth stage who is probably 25 years old. She was in jail probably for six months of that timeframe. You know what? She's been clean and sober for over a year. She got her kids back. She is a great parent and she's taking parenting classes and her significant other, who was also in trouble with the law all the time, they're together raising their own children in a clean and healthy way. So how do you do that? How do you accomplish that objective?

It's sort of what I call the four C's and actually I think there's six of them. At the end of the PowerPoint presentation it gives you all six of them. But I sort of lump them together in about four. You have to have communication and coordination of your services. Your law and justice system must be part of the whole tribal system. You have to be prepared as tribal council people, and tribal council judges have to be prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with their elected officials to say, 'Enough is enough,' to say that it's time to help our relatives heal. [Because] I have to tell you, it's not all roses. We've got great statistics, but if you start holding tribal members accountable, what do you think the tribal membership says? So it's important that you're all on the same page. You have to stand together. Your tribal court system is part of your government every bit as much as any other department. And the fact that we have separation of powers doesn't mean we have a separation of problems. You and I all have the same problems. It doesn't mean that we have separation of solutions. Because I'm a judge, I know a variety of things about promising practices. Because you're tribal council people, you know a variety of things. If we put our heads together, we can get it done [because] it's really for that young lady and her husband and their kids, because we get to break that cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and poverty to give them a real future. So it's worth the effort, but you've got to be prepared and you have to be able to stand together. You have to communicate it to everybody. So it's absolutely critical that everybody in the community knows what's happening [because] if they don't, it looks a little funny. And people don't necessarily like changing the justice system. There's a lot of people who think Western-style justice systems all have to look the same, so you've got to communicate. So you've got to coordinate, communicate. You absolutely have to be corrective. So you have to have somebody who's in the position to say, "˜You did a great job. I am so proud of you. I can't believe you've been clean and sober for a year. Your kids are so proud of you. I know your grandma's so proud of you. Good job.' [Because] too many times nobody bothers to tell people good job when they do a good job. We happily toss them in jail when they don't, but it's got to be corrective. So you have to reward good behavior, but you also have to be prepared to send people to jail for the consequences if they're not doing what you need them to do. And it has to absolutely be comprehensive. That's the last C. You've got to look at it in a holistic way. You can't just do it from one department perspective. You really do have to all stand together 'cause you know what happens when we all stand separate, right? It's happened over and over and over again. About this, the future's now. About this problem of drug and alcoholism and crime on Indian reservations, we need to take control [because] that's what the Shenandoah proverb says, right? "˜It's no longer enough to cry peace. We've got to act peace, live peace and live in peace.' I think we can do it. So call your tribal court judge. We can do it together. We're all part of the solution. Thank you very much." 

Native Nation Building TV: "Why the Rule of Law and Tribal Justice Systems Matter"

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

Guests Robert A. Williams, Jr. and Robert Yazzie discuss the importance of having sound rules of law and justice systems, and examine their implications for effective governance and sustainable economic development. They explore these issues and their role in creating a productive environment that encourages investment of all types from Native and non-Native citizens.

Native Nations
Citation

Native Nations Institute. "Why the Rule of Law and Tribal Justice Systems Matter" (Episode 3). Native Nation Building television/radio series. Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy and the UA Channel, The University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. 2006. Television program.

Mark St. Pierre: "Mark St. Pierre. Hello, friends. I'm your host, Mark St. Pierre and welcome to Native Nation Building. Contemporary Native Nations face many challenges including building effective governments, developing strong economies that fit their culture and circumstances, solving difficult social problems and balancing cultural integrity in change. Native Nation Building explores these often complex challenges in the ways Native Nations are working to overcome them as they seek to make community and economic development a reality. Don't miss Native Nation Building next."

[music]

 

Mark St. Pierre: "On today's program, we examine the critical role that tribal justice systems and the rule of law play in providing the necessary foundations for effective governance and sustainable development, and what happens when those systems and rules of law are poorly designed, implemented and understood. Here today to share their thoughts in this important topic are Robert Williams and Robert Yazzie. Mr. Yazzie, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, is the Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. He is also a visiting professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law and has served as a Navajo English interpreter for the U.S. District Court. Mr. Williams, a citizen of the Lumbee Nation, is the E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona's James E. Rogers College of Law. He also serves as the Chief Justice of the Pascua Yaqui Tribal Court of Appeals and the Judge Pro Tem of the Tohono O'odham Nation. Welcome, Mr. Williams and Chief Justice Yazzie. Thanks for joining us."

 

Robert Williams:  "Thank you."

 

Robert Yazzie:  "Thank you."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "In your opinion, why is the rule of law so critical to Native nations?"

 

Robert Williams: “Well, there's two primary reasons that you want a court system that treats people fairly and issues decisions that people can make their own plans for the future on. The first is the internal aspect. The people of the nation have to have confidence in their court systems, they have to believe that if people are arrested for crimes that they'll be prosecuted, that they'll be treated fairly, that their rights will be recognized and then victims are protected. They have to understand that their contracts will be enforced in their courts. Externally, you also want the outside world to have confidence in the nation's justice system for business relationships, for people that might be invited on to the reservation, for a whole host of reasons -- relationships with governments -- and so those are the reasons that most tribes do invest in court systems and legal systems and tribal courts are working so hard on trying to enforce the rule of law."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Robert, at [the] Navajo Nation, your approach is kind of blended with Navajo tradition and common law. How would you respond to that question of why is the rule of law so critical to the Navajo Nation?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "My experience says that when Navajos go to court, they expect certain things to happen. One is to say shí­ né' en dool jool, mso-fareast-font-family:Calibri;mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#222222;
background:white;mso-ansi-language:EN-US;mso-fareast-language:EN-US;mso-bidi-language:
AR-SA">  color:#222222;background:white">means my mind will become at ease when this problem that I have is addressed and people look for a satisfied result. So when people feel confident with the court system, especially [the] establishment of relationship with the judge, knowing that the judge's role will be carried out to bring peace to the problems at hand."

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Mark St. Pierre:  "We're all away that politics creep into court systems or tend to creep into court systems in all societies, but what is the impact of politics creeping into tribal court systems?"

 

Robert Williams:  "It can be particularly insidious. One of the big problems today in Indian Country is that tribes are saddled with constitutions and systems of government that really were imposed upon them 60, 70 years ago. Yet, at the same time, when those systems were imposed, many of the checks and balances of these western-style systems of constitutional democracy weren't incorporated. One of the most important is an independent judiciary, and most tribes today do not have an independent judiciary under their constitutions, and so where judges don't have the confidence to make decisions without looking over their shoulder whether a tribal politician might be unhappy, whether they might lose their job, justice suffers in any system, and that's particularly so in Indian Country."

 

Mark St. Pierre: color:#222222;”Robert, what's your take on that?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "I hear a lot of criticism. I think some of them have merit and some of are just pure assumption, because the outside world really doesn't understand exactly how a tribal court functions. If the outside world could really look at the details of how a tribal court functions, maybe people can appreciate what the tribal courts are going through. I've heard time and time again that there the politicians or the tribal council in any situation make decisions for tribal judges. I don't think that...that may have been true, but certainly today I think the politicians, the tribal politicians have really come to terms with their role. With the Navajo Nation, we had a case involving a pay raise and the public took issue on that and brought action before the court telling the Navajo Nation Council of 88, 'The process you followed to get what you want, to give yourselves a pay raise, is unlawful.' So the court was there to make the correction, and the correction it made is that they affirmed what the public stood for. Today, right now, the Navajo Nation Council have accepted that. I don't think they really liked the decision, but it's a decision that they choose to live with and I think they have taken...they take the courts very seriously. When it makes a decision, they want to give it support, to give it growth."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Rob, you've worked with a number of different tribes across the country. Can you give us examples of what a politicized justice system has done to perhaps hamper or derail community development and economic development, nation-building efforts?"

 

Robert Williams:  "Yeah, and I think it's important to recognize in a number of tribes, the Navajo are an excellent example, have moved toward an independent judiciary separating the tribal courts from tribal politics, but there are still a number of tribes out there that it's common practice sometimes for tribal elected leadership -- you may have a situation where the elected leadership changes every two years and then the courts change because people like to bring in folks they're familiar with, and so the expertise and independence that you've built up is lost. There are other situations where the business community both on and off the reservation just doesn't have confidence in the judiciary and doesn't feel that their contracts will be enforced so they'll be treated fairly, and so they may go to the tribal government and say, 'We want to have you waive your sovereign immunity. We won't sign this contract unless it's going to be litigated in state courts.' Then what you begin to get is just a general undermining of the rule of law throughout the entire reservation, and so when tribal governments do think that they can interfere in tribal courts and tribal law, it has this cascading effect, it has implications throughout the entire reservation economy and society."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "How do you separate, what are good ways to create that true separation of the justice system from the rest of the tribal government?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "I think in a smaller population-sized tribe it's much harder to deal with the separation of powers issue because everybody is related somehow. It's very hard to separate. But in a much bigger tribe like the Navajos or the Cherokees, I think they've pretty much come to accept what the functions of the different branches [of] government that is in place. The Navajo Nation doesn't have a constitution, so we don't have a constitution that says, there shall be an executive body, judicial body and legislative body. The way the code has been put together just gives that impression there is these separate branches, and I think that even though there are problems -- like in any other government there's problems trying to stay within your bounds and to carry out your functions. But I think the Navajo Nation has really gone through some trying times. As long as people understand that judicial independence means being able to make a decision independent of all forces -- government or political forces -- that is a decision that you can make in good conscience. 'A good decision made so you can sleep at night,' is what our boss used to always tell us when we were on the bench."

 

Robert Williams:  "And following up on that, there are specific steps that tribes can take. For example, I think the Chief Justice makes a great point that in smaller tribes, it's more difficult to achieve separation of powers cause everybody knows everyone and it may be that in that situation lifetime tenure for judges which is usually one of the ways that you achieve judicial independence might not be totally appropriate, but set terms, four years, five years. Make sure they're staggered so they don't necessarily coincide with the tribal government's election cycle. And then you have a really good system of review."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "So what you're suggesting is that the judges perhaps be elected by the tribal membership?"

 

Robert Williams:  "Or if they're going to be appointed, let's appoint them for set terms instead of oftentimes what happens it's a year-to-year contract, then that can really erode judicial independence. But you also need a system of professional education, you need to make sure your judges are out there getting the latest education they can, that they're getting certified, that you're reviewing. There's a process. The Navajo courts have a great process where judges are regularly reviewed by the chief justice and reports are issued, you can evaluate people fairly and then put them up before the council and see if they merit being reappointed again, and that's a good way to try and get politics separated out of that process."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Let's take a look at recall. If, for instance, in a smaller tribe the people themselves are not satisfied with the performance of a judge and the pressure builds up consistently that this judge is not really working well within tribal tradition or within the beliefs or value system of the people, what are systems to recall judges?

 

Robert Yazzie:  "We follow a process that evaluates judges when they complete their two-year probation and at the end of their two-year probation, the probationary judges must go through a judicial performance evaluation where the public have their input or the staff of the judge has their input, where other practitioners who go before that judge has their input. This is a fairly new process, and through that process, some of the judges have been removed by the standing committee based on the process that's now set in place. So we don't really...we haven't had to do any recall. I think the appointment process has enough in it that it takes care of those problems."

 

Robert Williams: “Recall is one of those areas where I think you can really talk meaningfully about the difference between western systems of self-government and many Native systems. In western systems, the recall is a check of the popular democracy. A lot of legal scholars would argue that recall of judges is a bad thing because you want judges to make decisions whether or not they're against the popular will. In tribal systems, it may be a bit different, where you have traditions of consensus and traditions of equality and egalitarianism spread out across all members. So it may well be that recall could function as an effective check on what we might call judicial activism. Because these systems are so new, many times you're applying foreign systems of law and as a judge you might be a member of the tribe, you're trained in a white legal system, but that doesn't necessarily mean you understand what justice means for the people and whether or not it's culturally appropriate. So recall may well be one way that tribal communities can take back control over their legal systems."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Could either of you talk for a little bit about what you think the training or education should be of tribal judges. It's obvious that every tribal judge is not going to have the opportunity to go to law school for instance."

 

Robert Williams:  "I think that what's most important is that the tribal judge, particularly at the trial level, understand the community he's working with and understand the norms and values. Native Nations Institute talks about this idea of cultural match that if the rules and the principles and the laws that are being applied on the reservation don't match the cultural expectations and what people in that community think is right, they're not going to be obeyed. And so I think there's a really good argument for making sure your trial judges particularly understand the communities. At the appellate level, there you're starting to get into issues of constitutional interpretation, statutory interpretation. Again, it may not necessarily be that an appellate judge has to be a lawyer, but this has to be a person that receives training in many of the excellent programs that are available in national judicial colleges, at law schools, at universities where tribal judges at the appellate as well as the trial level can go and get educated by professors and experts and understand what the really important issues are to perform that function well."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "How does Navajo handle the training of judges and people that work in the court system?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "Earlier you asked a question about what should...that there is a great need for tribal courts to learn the basics of law, rules of law. But we don't stop there. I think what Rob was telling me, he talked about doing things pursuant to the cultural norms. To me what that means is for a judge who is well-trained, like say this is due process and under the constitution, as long as a person...a person gets due process and if the procedural requirements are met, minimal, that's good enough. But in the Navajo way we don't stop there. We take this concept of due process and take it over to the Navajo context and say, 'How meaningful is this due process when we apply it to this situation. What's the end result in applying this concept to this situation?' And that is what the thinking process goes through and that should be the way that judges are trained, is to have command of the western legal concepts. But if we stop there, then we're in big trouble. If we stop there period, then we're not doing anything to foster the growth of tribal courts."

 

Robert Williams:  "We do a lot of advising of tribes at the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program and when they ask, 'Well, what can we do to stimulate economic development?' I tell them, 'Invest in your court systems, invest in the rule of law, invest in tribal judges.' What you'll see is, as the Harvard Project on Indian Economic Development showed, there's a direct correlation between tribes that have strong, effective judiciaries and the economic development environment, employment rates, education rates -- direct correlations. Tribes that invest in their court systems, to do the types of things that Justice Yazzie is talking about, are successful tribes."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "How would a Navajo citizen who wants to be a judge for instance get that training today?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "I think right now we are trying to do as much as we can to provide that opportunity. There are Navajo -- the young people are really looking for legal training, and right now I'm teaching for the Crown Point Institute of Technology, teaching the basics of law and an introduction to law, what that means and then how to think like a lawyer, how to make lawyer noise, how to prepare for bar exam and also at the same time bring in the tradition. You have this rule of law under the American Anglo system and here's the result. Then go across the street and see how the Navajos would approach the same problem. This is the process that or emphasis...this should be the emphasis in learning about law in Indian Country."

 

Robert Williams:  "And the Chief Justice is really focused on why I think being a tribal judge is a much harder job than being a regular judge in the Anglo system, and it may well be the hardest job on the reservation because on the one hand, as he explained, your tribal judge has to know the western legal system. They have to know western requirements of due process. Every criminal case in a tribal court can be reviewed on habeas corpus by a federal district judge, so you have them looking down at you. On the other hand, you also have to know Navajo custom and tradition or O'odham custom and tradition, to make that law relevant to the people whose lives it's affecting and it's constraining. And so where do you -- it's easy, you can go to law school, you can go to a judicial training center to learn about western jurisprudence and civil procedure, but where do you go to learn how to be a Navajo, where do you go to learn how to be Lakota. That's a knowledge that has to come from the heart, has to come from tradition, has to come from a community that really works on keeping that knowledge alive and making it work for them, and I think the most successful tribal court systems you see are the ones that do both those tasks, that can run the court system in an efficient effective way so that people appreciate that it's there, it makes the decisions it needs to make, but it's also making culturally appropriate decisions and decisions that are helping to move the community forward, not backward, not getting it entrenched in politics and internecine fighting that we see too oftentimes. And that's why it's such a hard job."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Let's take a look at that for a minute. The Navajo court system is well known for its incorporation of Navajo common law in its jurisprudence. How is that common law incorporated at Navajo just so our viewers can understand that alternative system?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "There's two ways we use the Navajo common law in applying common law to situations. The grassroots people have their own process, the lifeway process, the peacemaking process, and they have their own facilitator who runs the process, and in that process people are able to find the problem at hand and be able to talk things out. Here's a problem and different people can say, 'This is the way I see the problem from my perspective.' And they're able to reach a solution. So in the talking things out is where they begin to talk about values and principles, and those principles and values are the underlying basis for what makes Navajo a common law. More recently there's been a move through our own rule of law to say in every case situation, the Navajo common law shall be the law of preference. So when practitioners come to court and that's what they're told, 'Yes, this may be the Anglo position, but what is the Navajo rule of law as a matter of custom?' So in terms of incorporating there may be an issue, an issue like, for example, a judge may hear a criminal case. There's a recent decision made by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court that dealt with this concept hozho. There was an issue how the police officer handled the defendant. He didn't really...there was a question about his reading of the rights to the defendant wasn't correctly done. So when the Supreme Court looked at those facts and they thought about hozho. color:#222222;background:white">Hozho  means do things cautiously. If you are going to explain, make sure that they understand what the process is about, cautiously and with respect."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "So it's not a minimal just reading of the rights and as quick as you can read them and then throw the handcuffs on the guy and throw him in the car."

 

Robert Yazzie:  "...And to be honest about what you're trying to accomplish with that defendant."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "So the defendant is treated with respect as a human being."

 

Robert Yazzie:  "Exactly."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "you've worked Rob with a wide variety of systems. What are some other examples of positive Native influence on judicial systems, cultural influences, cultural norms that you've experienced that you could share?"

 

Robert Williams:  "Yeah. I teach Indian law and one of the things that we make sure students learn about is the development of what we call tribal common law, the use of tribal customary law, not only by the Navajo but a number of tribes. We're seeing a number of tribal courts recognize the need to incorporate custom and tradition as the common law of the tribe. The Hopi, for example, their Supreme Court recently decided a case on the issue of standing. That's a technical legal term meaning basically who can bring a case, who has a right to sue the government. As we know, in the United States, it's very hard to get standing. Congress can pass a statute and you would like to go to court and sue about it, but it's very difficult, you have to show a real interest. The Hopi considered that issue of standing and who can bring a suit against the Hopi tribal government and they said, 'You know, the western concept is just way too narrow.' We are a people that believe that everyone has a say and that government is accountable. And so you saw the Hopi Supreme Court diverging from western jurisprudence and enacting a broad principle of standing which fits very well. It really is a burgeoning, a growing movement, this use of tribal customary law and it's really improving the administration of justice in Indian Country."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Robert, what prompted Navajo to completely revise the way they do their court system and incorporate common law? When and how did that come about?"

 

Robert Yazzie:  "Well, we had so many laws that has been imposed on us since the western court systems came in 1892. But in 1950 the Navajo Nation said, 'Enough is enough. We are not...we're no longer going to put emphasis in applying federal law to solve our cases. We are going to do things the Navajo way.' The Navajo leaders back in 1982 said, 'Well, let's look at how business...law...decision-making was done 100 years ago,' and they found out that relations had a big role, that the idea of having relations in the dispute situation meant something, and also given the relations as we're talking about here, talking things out. Without control, without a judge, without lawyers, let the relations feel that they own the problem. Let them come up with solutions. Never mind how long it will take and how many days it will take. So when people are talking things out, they're able to make some connections. You can have a longstanding dispute like land. Land dispute is the hardest thing to solve in the adversarial system, and some of them never get resolved. But lo and behold, when you give the relations the opportunity to tackle that problem, they do go back in time and say, 'This is where the problem lies and then we need to come back to terms with one another, treat each other like relatives, treat each other with respect.' And treating each other with respect, [having] a system that addresses people as humans is very, very, very important, and I think...and I see that as the future of tribal courts. We've gone too far with the western way and I think the adversarial system had its days and it needs to change and I think, I hope in my lifetime that I will be able to see that this lifeway process merge with the western system and the tribal court center and I think that will show the world that Indian people have something, they have something to contribute to make a difference where people are always fighting one another."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "Just as kind of a wrap-up question: we've talked about court systems that function properly, when you live in a nation where the court system is working properly, what are the ramifications for the people of that nation in terms of their attitude towards their own nation and their own potential?"

 

Robert Williams:  "There's a sense of law and order, that you have personal security, you have security in your property, you have security in your investments. Indian people are entrepreneurial, too. I think anybody who spent time in an Indian community knows that Indian people have the ability to go out there and invest and work hard and create a life and create for their families. They want the same thing as everyone else does, so there's those positive benefits. There's a sense in which tribal sovereignty is strengthened, because every Indian tribe that can get its act together in this area and have effective legal systems shows the world, and as Justice Yazzie just said, that Indian people have something to contribute. And I think if tribal governments are really going to take their place in 21st-century American society that we need to really work hard in this area of creating effective tribal justice systems that make people feel not only safe and secure but proud of what it is their tribe is doing."

 

Mark St. Pierre:  "We want to give a heartfelt thank you to Robert Williams and Robert Yazzie for appearing on today's edition of Native Nation Building, a program of the Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy at the University of Arizona. To learn more about Native Nation Building and the issues discussed here today, please visit the Native Nations Institute website at www.nni.arizona.edu/nativetv. Thank you for joining us and please tune in for the next edition of Native Nation Building."

 

Honoring Nations: Theresa M. Pouley: The Tulalip Alternative Sentencing Program

Producer
Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
Year

Judge Theresa M. Pouley of the Tulalip Tribal Court discusses how the Tulalip Tribes reclaimed criminal jurisdiction from the State of Washington and then developed the award-winning Tulalip Alternative Sentencing Program, which she explains is a more effective and culturally appropriate approach to the administration of justice for Tulalip citizens. 

Native Nations
Resource Type
Citation

Pouley, Theresa M. "The Tulalip Alternative Sentencing Program." Honoring Nations symposium. Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Cambridge, Massachusetts. September 27-28, 2007. Presentation.

Duane Champagne:

"Our first speaker will be -- well, it was supposed to be Gary Bass, who is the head judge at Tulalip and he is one of the founders and sustainers of the Alternative Sentencing Program. But in his place, he's sent us Theresa Pouley, who is associate judge and who actually made the presentation at the Honoring Nations final program. They're 2006 honorees and have a very outstanding program, which I'll let Theresa tell you about."

Theresa M. Pouley:

"Well, I want you to know first that Judge Bass really wanted to be here and he is here in spirit, but he's also here in form. If you look at the 2008 applications [brochure], his picture's right here, standing next to me. And I thought a little bit -- except justices and judges are supposed to be more serious -- that I'd wear it as a little mask today so it was really Gary Bass, but then I changed my mind. I'm Theresa Pouley. I'm the associate judge. As chief judges often do, he delegated this responsibility to me to talk to you about Tulalip's Alternative Sentencing Program. And I was actually delighted. When I talked to Amy [Besaw Medford] and she called me on the phone, she said, 'Oh, this is going to be the feel good section,' and I was like so excited [because] nobody says 'feel good' and 'tribal court' in the same sentence ever. So what I'm going to do is just remind you that when I start out, it's not going to feel very good, but when I get to the end, just like Amy's been for this whole conference -- she's totally right, it is going to work.

I always start, when I do presentations like this, by thinking about words from our ancestors, from different tribes. And in this particular case, I thought about this saying from a Shenandoah proverb that says, 'It's no longer enough to cry peace. We have to act peace, live peace and live in peace.' And Tulalip's Alternative Sentencing Program is really geared towards doing those things. How do you act peace?

You look a little bit at the history of the Tulalip tribes  -- and this is not the feel good part of my presentation -- crime on the Tulalip Indian Reservation, which is located in western Washington, traditional fishing tribe, about 3,500 tribal members now -- the reservation by the time the 1980s and 90s came around was characterized by everybody who knew it as lawless. That's a pretty serious, and makes you take a serious sigh, about how the criminal justice system is operating at Tulalip. Now why is that? It's exactly the same as it is all over Indian Country -- the federal government took over traditional Native problem-solving and replaced it with a system of punishment and prison, and not a surprise, it didn't work at Tulalip. The main road that goes through the Tulalip Reservation was designated by the Washington State Patrol and virtually every other agency as 'blood alley' because of the number of drug- and alcohol-related deaths on its highways. In 2001, the Tulalip Board of Directors said, 'Enough is enough. We're tired of having state law enforcement on the reservation, we're tired of sending tribal members to state court, we're tired of having this reputation of lawlessness on the reservation, and we're going to take our community back. We are going to solve the criminal problems that happen within the boundaries of the Tulalip Reservation.' And they did.

They got a State [of Washington] piece of legislation, which retroceded all of their criminal jurisdiction under Public Law 280, and they took over and went about the business of adjudicating its own tribal members as guilty of crimes and holding them accountable for those crimes. Now, 2001, you had a huge influx of cases. So Tulalip Tribes never has heard a criminal case, never had a criminal defendant come before the bench before, and in a two-year period of time, they had 1,100 criminal cases filed in tribal court. Zero to 1,100. Imagine, if you will.

By 2003, Chief Judge Bass came to one conclusion that should have been easy for any judge to see all along, which is, his clients were all the same clients. And why were they committing crimes? Were they committing crimes because they had criminal behavior? No. They were committing crimes because 95 percent of the time, they had substance abuse issues. Over 60 percent of the time, they had mental health issues. Many of them suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because they were removed from their family's homes, because they were sent to boarding school. The issues that were bringing those clients to court simply were not being resolved, not on any day. So Judge Bass decided, in a Nike© kind of way, 'Just do it.' We can do it better than that.

So he created a special criminal calendar where he had clients come into court on a weekly basis and he asked them the question. 'I asked you to get a drug and alcohol evaluation. Did you get one?' And if they didn't, then he'd say, 'You're going to get one by next week and if you don't, I'll throw you in jail.' Throw you in jail for a long time like they would in the state court system? Warehouse you off 365 days? No. One day, to make the point. That's how important it was that you should get a drug and alcohol evaluation. Combined with that -- you know, modern technology is a wonderful thing. He used a system of urinalysis testing. It's a big joke at Tulalip, by the way. If you come in to get a will at Tulalip, you better be prepared to take a UA. You want a divorce, we're going to hand you the cup. Because, here's the key, early identification of drug and alcohol related issues and constant monitoring of sobriety is critical to your ability to comply with court orders. If the judge tells you that you have to get community service, that you need to get a job, you need to get a GED, what is the chance of you being able to accomplish that objective if you're addicted to drugs or alcohol? All of the state statistics will tell you exactly what the chances are: seven in 10 Native Americans in jail today are there because they did not comply with their probation. Why not? Because they're addicted to substances.

So a concerted effort was made by Judge Bass to change the way business got done. It was so successful on individual clients that the police were seeing, that the Chief of Police of the Tulalip Tribes went to the Board of Directors and said, 'I think you should pass a resolution. That resolution should require that we all investigate alternative sentencing and that we have a drug court.' And they passed a resolution implementing those things. So that's the history of how we get there. So now we know how we act peace. So how do we live peace?

We have Tulalip's Alternative Sentencing Program, which incorporates all the best values of the Native culture into a modern and traditional court system. First of all, you have regular and frequent reviews with the judge. And the judge is there not to punish you, the judge is there to encourage you to make better choices. If you do a good job, the judge is going to come off the bench and give you a hug. If you get your GED and graduate, your case is going to be closed. If you get a job when you haven't been employed for the last 20 years of your life, a round of applause is going to break out in the courtroom. That's how alternative sentencing works. We still had a group of clients that we couldn't reach, our repeat offenders who had been in court now five, or six, or seven, or eight times. And that particular system wasn't working. So the question became, what do we do with those clients? And the answer is, change. Change everything. And you start with changing the name. [Salish language]. The court 'giving the means to get stronger' is Tulalip Tribes' wellness court. Wellness court coordinates all of the services of the tribe. They all meet together once a week and those clients come forward and visit not just with the judge, but with all of the institutions of the tribe. Drug and alcohol counselor is there, mental health counselor is there, GED provider is there, Northwest Indian College is there -- everybody who has a vested interest in this person's life and in the requirements for that person sits at the table once a week. But remember, you have to change everything.

So imagine the courtroom. Now the courtroom is an entirely different place. They all sit in a circle. They start the proceedings and they open with a prayer. And everybody sitting around the circle, client, public defender, prosecutor, police officer, treatment provider, we all take our turn giving a prayer. And then all of the clients take turns doing closing prayers. Now Tulalip isn't a homogenous society. We have a variety of religions that are there, but we all get to learn and respect one another. These proceedings which happen in a circle, you don't sit on the bench–which is a problem for me when I do [Salish language], because I'm a little short, so sitting around in the circle sometimes is problematic, so I like to get up and wander around. You all sit in a circle, you open with a prayer, you close with a prayer, and they all watch out for each other.

When we first were awarded Honoring Nations in 2006, we'd just started [Salish language]. Now, we've had our first two graduates. The most rewarding thing, and this is what Amy's right about, is that I have a grandma who is a grandma to her grandchildren again, and a mother to her children again. The most rewarding thing is that I have a young mother who's 25 years old, who has four children who have all been removed from her care. And not only has she been clean and sober for eight months [because] she's got to come visit with the whole team every week, but now she's starting to get her children back. The Tulalip Tribes is planning on moving for an in-home dependency within the next couple of months. And not only that, as if that wasn't enough, her husband has always been a problem child. Since 2001, he was one of our very first criminal cases. And in 2006, he's still racking up charges. And in 2007, he's out of jail and on probation again. And guess what? He also is doing fabulously. The family's in family counseling, there's in-home services. We just gave them a congratulations card because, for the very first time in their life, they have a home with their children in it. You can just change everything and you do it just one at a time.

Now that's sort of the anecdotal information, but I'm always reminded, especially when I come to these gatherings, that it's not really my job. Nor do I get the luxury of seeing the results on a daily basis, but every once in awhile I get that reminder. We don't do this work for the mom, necessarily. We do this work to break the cycle of violence and drug addiction in our community that deprives her children and her grandchildren from being able to be tribal chairwoman. Actually, her children are all girls. So if they wanted to be tribal chairman that would be okay, too.

So if you act peace, live peace, how do you live in peace? You have to figure out how to incorporate the custom and tradition and values of the tribe into the justice system. Courts are not popular places. Nobody wants to come to court. I bet all of you when you thought you were going to talk to a judge you're like, 'Oh, man.' And I bet each and every one of you has a relative who's been to court and didn't have anything nice to say about going to court. Remember that separation of powers does not mean separation of solutions, and it certainly doesn't mean separation of problems. The Tulalip Board of Directors passed a resolution that said that we should plan a wellness court, that we should plan alternative sentencing, and the chief judge could have said, 'Absolutely not! You can't say anything about that. Separation of powers.' But he didn't because we have the same problems and we needed the same solutions. The same thing's true for the chief of police. He didn't ask those questions and he wasn't interfering with the province of the court. We need to learn how to work together. We have to quit thinking of our relatives who are in court as sort of the black sheep of our family. We have to love all of our clients and I really hope for every one of my clients everyday -- even when I send them off to jail once or twice -- that they get the message this time. [Because] I never know when I'm going to be looking at the chairman of my tribe, or when I'm looking at the mother of the chairman of the tribe. [Salish language]. That's the judge's role. The court's role is to give people the tools to help them be stronger. But that means everybody here -- this is all of your obligation -- you've got to talk to your local tribal court judge, bring them into the loop. Don't be afraid of passing a resolution. It is absolutely critical to our tribal members that we take the time to figure out how those disadvantaged people in our communities can be made whole, because if we don't, that's just perpetuated into another couple of generations. It's absolutely critical that you use justice systems to change behavior in a positive way. And when you do that, you go back to the more traditional problem solving.

At Tulalip it was like this all the time. From my own family it's absolutely like that. Court becomes a place where there's teaching to be given, not only to the person who's appearing in front of you, but to everyone else in the courtroom and everyone else in the community. Teachings are given. That's how we hand down particular pieces of information for the next generation. So, it's the old Shenandoah proverb right? Tulalip decided 'it's not enough to cry peace' anymore. 'We [absolutely] have to act peace, live peace and live in peace.' Crime rate at Tulalip, a year after this program, has decreased 25 percent -- 25 percent. That's an amazing day. And we get our mothers and our grandmothers back. We get our fathers and our grandfathers back. We do it for the future of our children in the ways of our ancestors. Thank you."