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.
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."
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
people are taking very seriously how big the problems
are," she said. "This is very wrong from a million
To learn more
To access Amnesty
International's report about domestic violence rates in
Native American and Alaska Native women, go to the Web
de Bruin, The Daily Triplicate