Tribes awarded key funding
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JULY 7, 2000

Tribal justice systems throughout Indian Country have been awarded key funding that will enable them to continue the fight against drug and alcohol abuse.

The United States Department of Justice last week announced that 44 tribes and Alaska Native Villages have been award grants totaling more than $5 million in funding. The funds are part of the Department's Drug Court Program, a program initiated in 1994 to combat rising numbers of nonviolent drug users.

For many tribes, the program plays an important role in promoting the well being and safety of the tribe. According to a 1997 survey conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services, Native Americans have higher rates of drug use and alcohol dependence, as well as a higher need for drug abuse treatment, when compared to the general population.

By combining substance abuse treatment with community involvement, tribes can implement flexible, creative, and successful drug courts.

The Spokane Tribe of Washington is one of this year's grant winners and plans to use the funds to establish a juvenile court. The tribe already has in place an adult court which enters its second year of operation this month.

Almost immediately after the adult court's establishment, the tribe recognized the need to address its younger population. "We see the children as being critical to the future of the tribe," says the Honorable Mary Pearson, Judge of the Spokane Tribal Court in Wellpinit, Washington.

Youth of the tribe will participate in a program Judge Pearson describes as "rigid." In addition to attending several support group meetings a week, they will also have to appear in court weekly for review and undergo drug testing once or twice a week.

But the tribe also encourages community and family involvement. "We're trying to be really innovative and culturally relevant at the same time," says Judge Pearson.

Participants will have probation officers, acting in the role of an aunt or an uncle, who will look out for their needs. Participants will be allowed to substitute Spokane language classes, taught by Spokane Elder Ann McCrea, and sweatlodge ceremonies for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Most importantly, Judge Pearson says the tribe hopes the program will encourage participants to help each other stay clean and sober.

"We hope the youths who are in there together will become a support system to each other," says Judge Pearson. "They can turn the peer pressure on in a positive way. We have some really good children who need some additional help. We can give it to them."

Related Stories:
Tribal grantees in Drug Court Program (Tribal Law 7/7)
DOJ: No California Tribes applied (Tribal Law 7/7)
Janet Reno visits reservation (The Talking Circle 7/6)
Tribes miss out on funds (Tribal Law 7/5)

Relevant Links:
The Drug Court Programs Office, US Department of Justice -
Tribal Drug Court Resources, Tribal Court Clearinghouse -