December 29, 2017
Great people doing great things: Tribal courts offer judicial alternatives
On a gloomy day in September, Lisa Hayden rushed through the circular door of the Yurok Tribal Court in Klamath, California, with her 1-year-old son on her hip. Hayden, 31, worried that the day wouldn’t turn out any different from all the others she’d spent in court trying to protect herself from her ex-husband.
The abuse that Hayden says she suffered is shockingly common: According to a Justice Department study in 2016, four out of five Native Americans have experienced violence from an intimate partner. In 97 percent of those cases, Native women were victimized by non-Natives. To make matters worse, indigenous people are less likely to receive fair treatment when interacting with police and judges, according to a recent analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and a report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
This has been Hayden’s experience.
This was why Hayden brought her request for a restraining order to Judge Abby Abinanti of the Yurok Tribal Court, a respected figure with a distinctive approach to jurisprudence. Abinanti doesn’t wear a robe, opting instead for jeans and cowboy boots. She sits not on a dais, but behind a wooden desk in a small room. Immediately upon entering Abinanti’s courtroom on that September day, Hayden said, she felt “more like a person” than she had in county court. Abinanti listened at length, squinting as if trying to solve a puzzle.
Ultimately, Abinanti issued the restraining order. But she also made an offer to Hayden’s ex-husband, to send letters to his children and receive photos through a caseworker; an earlier offer still stands for him to attend a program designed by Abinanti’s court to rehabilitate batterers, and to remove his gang tattoos on the tribe’s dime. The goal was to protect Hayden while giving her ex-husband a chance to end his cycle into and out of prison.
also in native judicial news...
The murder of a Native American woman in North Dakota has inspired lawmakers in Congress to introduce a bill aimed at protecting Native women.
The bill from North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is known as Savanna's Act for Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, the pregnant 22-year-old Fargo resident who went missing in August and was later found dead.
Caroline LaPorte, senior policy advisor on native affairs at the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center, said the police response to cases of missing Native American women has been riddled with prejudice. And said often, no report is taken at all. Savanna's Act focuses on this issue.
exploring Native linguistic contributions to American literature
Sarah Rivett, an associate professor of English and American Studies at Princeton University, specializes in early American and transatlantic literature, religion and indigenous history.
In November, Rivett’s latest book, “Unscripted America: Indigenous Languages and the Origins of a Literary Nation,” was published by Oxford University Press. “Unscripted America” explores the impact of colonial language encounters between indigenous and European populations on Enlightenment language philosophy and early American literary history.
My work on this book began with a fascination with a vast archive of American Indian language texts, consisting of vocabulary lists, grammars, translated catechisms, dictionaries and sermons, all written in indigenous languages by missionaries and Native American interpreters.
The claim that I make in my book is that these indigenous languages were not only spoken but also very present in the literary imaginary of the 18th and 19th centuries. Writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were deeply influenced by indigenous languages. These authors mainly knew of these languages secondhand. For example, James Fenimore Cooper learned about Lenni Lenape from the Moravian missionary John Heckewelder. Nonetheless, ideas about Native American words had a profound impact on the style and form of early American writing.
Cultural identity a challenge for urban native Americans
Most of Oklahoma's nearly 130,000 Native American students attend school in small towns, often in communities where their tribe's history is woven into the town's patchwork.
But for the 20 percent of Native students who attend a school in the state's two largest metro areas, cultural connections can be harder to find, especially when it comes to a specific identity.
“Our Native program doesn't include Native language because I have 77 tribes represented (throughout the district), so if I pick one language someone is going to be upset or left out," said Star Yellowfish, director of Native American student services for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
While Oklahoma City schools have more Native students than most districts, those students are spread out among nearly 100 schools, which can make it tough for a student to see others who share the same cultural identity.
Connecting Native students with each other can be especially important in an urban school system, said George Shields, director of Indian Education for Putnam City Schools.
"In a rural setting, a lot of Native kids are going to get to see grandma and grandpa, uncles and aunts, and feel more connected to their family and their heritage," Shields said. "Our kids don't get that. A lot of the (Native American) families in my district have moved here for a job and it might involve taking that student out of their culture."
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