By Jerome Tharaud
In an effort to curb juvenile delinquency, gang activity and drug use on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, members of the Chippewa Cree tribal court system and tribal juvenile care providers will gather Wednesday in Havre. The tribal council and the FBI have also been asked to attend.
The day-long meeting at the Duck Inn will focus on a variety of proposed changes to the tribe's juvenile justice system, including making the curfew earlier during the school year, appointing juvenile probation officers, altering domestic violence ordinances to allow corporal punishment by parents, and adding new laws against stalking, terrorism and vandalism.
"Our goal, and it's ambitious, is to eradicate drug use" at Rocky Boy, Chief Judge Gilbert Belgarde said last week.
Tribal programs director Patrick Chief Stick Jr., one of the planners of the meeting, said every ordinance should be made stricter and enforced to the maximum.
"We're to the point where we have to have a really strong disciplinary system," Chief Stick said.
Any ordinance changes would have to be drafted by the tribal attorney and passed into law, Belgarde said today. He added that it's unclear whether they would be voted on by the tribal council or by referendum.
The proposed changes are modeled after a federal program called Alternative Justice to Problem Juveniles. In 2002 a team of tribal leaders went to El Paso, Texas, Laughlin, Nev., and Williston, N.D., to attend established alternative juvenile courts under the program that had been successful in dealing with delinquency.
"We're going to copy whatever they did because it worked," Belgarde said.
Despite the tough new ordinances proposed, Belgarde said the changes would try to focus on rehabilitation, not incarceration.
Chief Stick agreed. "They can be punished, but not in a way that's going to make them worse," he said.
As an alternative to jailing juveniles, the officials will examine a program of house arrest and drug testing for "chronic, unlawful behavior," according to the Feb. 18 letter sent by Belgarde to call the meeting. After completing the program, "The reward would be to defer and eventually dismiss charges against them," the letter said.
However, the meeting's agenda also includes discussing the use of weekend jail sentences to prevent delinquency, and calls for "automatic jail terms" for destruction of personal property and disrespecting tribal officials.
The meeting is also an effort to encourage the cooperation between the Tribal Youth Program and the tribe's juvenile justice program, which merged after Thanksgiving. The Tribal Youth Program is a juvenile drug court that puts drug offenders into a nine-month drug rehabilitation program by deferring their sentences.
Kathleen Goggles, a juvenile counselor for the tribe, said, "I think we're doing a better job by merging."
Chief Stick said he hopes the meeting Wednesday will help prevent what he described as a "zig-zag system," in which youth are shuttled from social services to the juvenile court and back, with little communication in between. He said the meeting is "not so much to establish laws to say 'Hey, we're going to bust these guys,' but to get a more efficient system of referrals.
"We're not communicating right, and that's why we've called this meeting," he said.
Social services and the courts are constructing an online database, Chief Stick said, to allow the departments to share statistics, records and treatment records.
"If we get this network we'll be able to communicate better, and be on the same level to best serve the needs of our clients," Chief Stick said.