Tlingit & Haida: Tribal youth court could launch in a few weeks

About 30 tribal officials and community members recently discussed ways to get a new youth court up and running in Juneau. It’s an opt-in program for youth tribal members in Southeast Alaska that’s an alternative to the regular justice system.

SueAnn Lindoff is in charge of the new program of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. She hopes they’ll be able to start taking youth through the program in a few weeks,  a student or two at a time.

“I don’t want five students because I’m a strong believer in quality versus quantity,” Lindoff said.

The framework for the program has a strong emphasis on tribal mentorship and tradition. During the meeting, people suggested youth could work with elders to learn about traditional values and stories.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel; we don’t want our personal identity to be first with this program,” she said. “What we want to do is we want to put a spoke in the existing wheel already — if it means make it bigger, make it stronger.”

The youth wellness court program has had hiccups; a coordinator left earlier this spring and planning large meetings has been difficult. This meeting was in a conference room on the top floor of the Andrew Hope Building.

Lindoff said it’s been a huge learning experience for her. She compared it to learning to drive a stick shift.

“If you don’t know how to drive, and you’re used to driving an automatic, well you jerk and jerk and stall,” she said.

But eventually, she said, you learn. The group, which had just met for the first time all summer, created a four-person task force to tackle major aspects of the program and to determine what troubled or disadvantaged youth might be missing. Another meeting is planned late September.

The U.S. Department of Justice awarded the Central Council a $550,000 grant last year to create the youth recidivism program for three years.