The primary action item of the State Services Committee this year has been to obtain state recognition of tribal court orders and allowing tribal members access to state services.
It is beyond dispute that Native American children and families have a great need for increased services.
Expanding tribal jurisdiction is necessary if access to state services are to be adequately provided to Native Americans. Studies show that culturally sensitive programs and exposure to tribal traditions, including those promoting tribal customs, are more effective in reducing recidivism, furthering justice and reform. Empowered tribal courts are less likely to alienate youth and families from the tribal community and tribal customs.
To meet this goal, the Services Committee is working to develop model tribal court orders that can be recognized by state courts. The approach is based on Project Passport, the uniform cover sheet approved by the New Mexico Supreme Court. The Project Passport cover sheet sets the minimum requirements that must be met before the order can be enforced by another jurisdiction.
The model orders for tribal courts would be enforceable in state court and would meet state requirements. Therefore, if a tribal resident is in need of a service that cannot be provided locally, the tribal court could use the requirements stated in the model order to obtain services from the state. The tribal court would retain jurisdiction and monitor the individual’s progress while ensuring that tribal customs and traditions are being used as part of the treatment.
The Service Committee’s first step was to pick an area of needed state services. The committee decided to start with Juvenile Involuntary Commitment orders, as New Mexico law currently provides for state recognition of tribal court orders (§32A-6A-29). New Mexico law recognizes that the factors and issues surrounding mentally incapacitated adults are similar to that of juveniles and the committee is working to develop model orders for the involuntary commitment of adults and juveniles.
The services committee is working on other action items such as:
- model orders for tribal access to other needed state services;
- the development of a lay counsel or a lay advocate program for better representation in tribal courts;
- drafting a model ordinance/law that can be used by tribes in implementing the federal VAWA law;
- the identification of an index and/or online directory of state services,
- improved tribal notification by the state of tribal youth in state custody and
- how one can gain access to state services such as developing MOUs.
Plans for 2017
The model orders were submitted to the Supreme Court Rules Committee for consideration and adoption in 2016. Once approved, the Committee will develop a process to ensure all state and tribal courts have access to the forms.