Tlingit and Haida gets federal funds to expand tribal court

The U.S. Justice Department has awarded the Tlingit and Haida Central Council nearly 900-thousand dollars to expand tribal court services.

Currently, the court hears paternity and child support cases involving tribal members. Attorney Jessie Archibald with Tlingit and Haida’s Child Support Unit says the grant will eventually allow the court to hear domestic violence cases.

“The goal is to give them a culturally appropriate forum to seek a restraining order, and to have our tribal court enter that order and to have the State of Alaska work with us in partnership to enter that order into the state system and assist in providing enforcement, to keep families safe,” says Archibald.

The Central Council was one of 20 Alaska Native organizations to receive a grant under the Justice Department’s Coordinated Tribal Assistance program this year.

Archibald says the council’s Judiciary Committee will use the money to develop codes governing family violence cases, and work on a cooperative justice agreement with the State of Alaska. Funds will also be used to update court computers and develop a video conferencing system.

Eddie Brakes, Manager of Tlingit and Haida’s Tribal Child Support Unit, says the goal is to offer a more “holistic” approach to tribal member victims of domestic abuse.

“The ultimate goal is to provide an alternate venue to the state court system in tribal communities – less adversarial, more family-based, and crafted with the unique values of the tribal citizenry in mind,” says Brakes.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is the sovereign tribal government for more than 27-thousand Tlingit and Haida Indians worldwide. Its judicial branch includes three elected judges and a magistrate.

Earlier this year, the Alaska Supreme Court recognized tribal court authority in child welfare cases in its decision in the case State of Alaska vs. Native Village of Tanana.