Over the last month of my internship at the public defenders office I have interacted with and learned about another court system here: the Tribal Court. It is oversaw by the tribes in the area and interacts with other other courts around the state. Previously, I had given no thought to how Native American heritage could play any role in how court rulings stand. One judge here in Washtenaw works closely with the tribes to ensure active efforts are made to assist and fairly treat anyone from the tribes. Interestingly, I have learned how much tribal heritage can play a role in juvenile cases and cases of child neglect. When kids in these situations are discovered to possibly have tribal heritage a entire discovery process must occur before the case can close. Is the child already a member of the tribe? Would they like to become one? Do they have family active in the tribe and is that a possible new placement for the child if parents were to lose custody? These are all questions that must be answered in order to have accurate data on the client and ensure guidelines agreed upon with the tribes are being followed. The tribal court was put in place originally to protect members in the justice system from unfair treatment and to act as a watchdog over the traditional court system. Once a month the tribal court will hold review periods to look over active cases and deem if the proper steps are being taken by the courts with their tribe members. This can involve simple review of treatment and the process that the client is going through. They also take part in ensuring children in the court system are getting active efforts from the system to help them whether the child is part of the tribe already or not. Even those who have possible heritage but not yet members are watched over as the Tribes work to protect anyone who could be part of their ancestry, as well as work to expand the tribe. Learning about how this council works within the justice system was very interesting to me as a Michigander because I have learned so much about the tribes over the years and take pride in what they have been able to accomplish here. It is very impressive to see their system in place and working so well alongside the rest of society and should be taken a model example for the rest of the country.
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