January 26, 2001

For Further Information Contact: Steve Moore, (303) 447-8760

 

RECENTLY PASSED INDIAN TRIBAL JUSTICE TECHNICAL AND LEGAL ASSISTANCE ACT EXPECTED TO STRENGTHEN AND IMPROVE TRIBAL COURT SYSTEMS

BOULDER, CO – Indian law attorneys and tribal courts say that the recently passed Indian Tribal Justice Technical and Legal Assistant Act (PL 106-559) is an important step forward in the strengthening and enhancement of tribal justice systems.

The Act formally authorizes the Attorney General to award grants and provide technical assistance to Indian Tribes to support the development and continuing operation of tribal courts. National and regional tribal justice associations have been working hard, primarily on a voluntary basis, for decades to assist Tribes with the operation of their tribal court systems. This law makes the associations and Native American legal services organizations eligible to apply for much-needed federal funding to assist them in their efforts. An important component of the new law is the reauthorization of the 1993 Indian Tribal Justice Act.

"Our work on this front, however, is not done," says Judge Jill Shibles, Executive Director of the National Tribal Justice Resource Center. "Serious efforts must be made to impress upon Congress and the new Administration the critical need for funding of the programs contemplated by the new law and of the Indian Tribal Justice Act that is now over seven years old and has never received a penny of funding. Tribal courts have been under-funded for more than twenty years -- which is a failure of the federal government to meet its trust responsibility to Indian nations. The law is a chance for the federal government to meet its obligations in the tribal justice area."

The Act, which the 106th Congress passed on December 21, 2000, specifically calls for Congressional appropriations over the next four years to support:

    • Tribal Justice Training and Technical Assistance Grants
    • Tribal Civil Legal and Criminal Assistance Grants
    • Grants to tribal courts to develop, enhance, and continue operating tribal justice systems and to develop and implement:
      • Tribal codes and sentencing guidelines;
      • Inter-Tribal courts and appellate systems;
      • Tribal probation services, diversion programs, and alternative sentencing provisions
      • Tribal juvenile services and multi-disciplinary protocols for child physical and sexual abuse; and
      • Traditional Tribal judicial practices, traditional tribal justice systems, and traditional methods of dispute resolution

According to Steve Moore, a senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund who has worked with Indian legal services organizations for the past twenty-two years, "The enactment of the Act will enable these programs to access critical supplemental funding to assist Tribes and tribal courts in much-needed infrastructure and justice system development and enhancement. There are thirty Indian legal services programs nationwide and these programs have never received sufficient funding from the Legal Services Corporation or other sources. Giver the tremendous need of individual Indians and small Tribes for access to legal counsel, the authorization to seek funding from the Department of Justice is a major step forward."

The Native American Rights Fund was instrumental in securing the passage of the Indian Tribal Justice Act in Congress. In addition, Cindy Darcy and Eric Eberhard of the firm of Dorsey & Whitney in Washington, D.C., provided outstanding pro bono assistance to NARF.