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Southeast Alaska tribe takes initial steps to create their own tribal court

Feb 7, 2019

A Southeast Alaska tribe has taken the initial steps to begin creating their own tribal court. 

Yakutat Tlingit Tribe recently was awarded two grants -- $720,000 plus $552,000 -- totaling a little over $1 million to start their own tribal court system.

The tribe’s executive director Nathan Moulton says it’s a demonstration of the tribe’s self-determination.

"It really leads to true tribal sovereignty,” he said. “We're creating a judicial branch within our tribal government and it's a huge step towards demonstrating we are in fact a legitimate government.”

Moulton says Yakutat Tlingit worked with the tribal court system at Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

“We decided to create a partnership agreement with Tlingit-Haida Tribal Courts initially to come in and set up a satellite court in Yakutat, where the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe would adopt the law-and-order codes from Tlingit and Haida Tribal Court,” Moulton said.”

One of the grants will help fund court staffing positions, including an Indian child welfare advocate, court room recording equipment and other supplies.

Moulson says the Yakutat tribal court system will go along a way for support of crime victims and the perpetrators of the crime. Something he thinks is different from the state or federal court system.

“Many times what you see in state courts or even federal courts, the perpetrator never gets rehabilitated,” he said. “So what we're going to be able to … to get low level criminal offenses into tribal court – domestic violence, low level criminal offenses like DUIs and minor in possessions – and we're able to place more of a focus on rehabilitation and more of a focus on crime victims and serving both populations.”

Moulson says as the tribe’s court system grows, it’ll be able to develop its own judges and contract out more specialized positions the tribe can’t source locally.