Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.



Yurok working toward legal system

By Cornelia de Bruin, Triplicate August 15, 2007

Members of the Yurok Reservation are working with California Superior Court Judge Abby Abinanti to set up a judicial set of standards to establish a legal system for the tribe.

Abinanti is a Yurok Indian. She is also President of the Board of California Law and Policy Institute and the first American Indian to be appointed as a Commissioner in California Superior County, where she presides on the bench in San Francisco and works with domestic violence problems—presently assigned to delinquency issues.

She is also Chief Judge of the Yurok Reservation.

"We are concentrating first on creating a children's code," Abinanti said. "The approach we're using is very time-intensive; we hope to have the code in place by the end of the year."

Abinanti has created workbooks, which members of the tribe now have.

"The idea is to have people discuss the issues and resolutions," Abinanti said. "We're in community meetings now."

Because the legal code is a work in progress, Yurok tribal leaders are refraining from commenting on it. They deferred until the code is approved and adopted for use.

Presently the Yurok Reservation employs five tribal officers. Of those, one is in the process of becoming cross-deputized with the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office. Another tribal officer who was in the same process has left his job with the tribe.

"The tribal officers can enforce federal and tribal ordinances on the reservation, and they have a Tribal Court," said Sheriff Dean Wilson. "The enforcement of state law is taken care of by the sheriff's deputies; the tribe can apprehend people on the reservation, but has to relinquish control to our deputies when they arrive."

Wilson and the tribe have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding cross-deputizing the tribal police officers.

The tribe is working with Del Norte Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) as it develops its own tribal CASA program. Abinanti praised Del Norte CASA Executive Director Susie Minx as being "really good, very easy to work with."

She noted that across the country, native CASAs have had difficult relationships with local CASAs. The Yurok tribe, she added, is committed to going forward in "a positive, good fashion."

Minx said that Del Norte CASA is supporting the Yurok's efforts.

"We are holding a training in September and will include members of the Yurok tribe," she said. "They'll be trained by California state CASA people.

The local CASA will also help to screen applicants who want to become part of the tribal CASA program.

"As our court develops, one of the issues we will deal with is domestic violence," Abinanti said. "We will devise a code and work with Del Norte County and its judiciary to divide up the responsibilities."

She added that the tribe's relationships with local law enforcement have not always been "the best."

"We are trying hard to resolve the issues on both sides," she said.

The tribe works mostly with the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office.

Because accurate statistics haven't been kept for the Yuroks, Abinanti doesn't know the rate of domestic violence on the reservation. She described domestic violence as "a combined law and health problem."

"There need to be consequences, but we want to try to resolve the problems without simply incarcerating people," she said.

Nationwide, available information points to "high rates" of sexual violence and a lack of "culturally appropriate services" in towns and cities, according to a recently released Amnesty International report.

Titled "Maze of Injustice, the failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the U.S.A.", the report calls the situation "of significant concern to merit further research."

The report states that 34.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped during their lifetimes. The figure compares to one in five for the nation as a whole.

"We were all gratified people that Amnesty International is turning their attention to it," Abinanti said. "I hope this turns into the will to address the issues. We're not particularly surprised by what's in the report; we have a lot of issues to deal with here."

Besides her work directly with the Yurok tribe, Abinanti works with California Law and Policy Institute to help train tribal court judges and work with victims of domestic violence.

"The native people are taking very seriously how big the problems are," she said. "This is very wrong from a million different perspectives."

To learn more

To access Amnesty International's report about domestic violence rates in Native American and Alaska Native women, go to the Web site http://web.amnesty.org/actoforwomen/annualreport_feature-230507-eng.

SOURCE: Cornelia de Bruin, The Daily Triplicate

Home Contact


              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

             Copyright © klamathbasincrisis.org, 2007, All Rights Reserved