Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The government of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation is starting some new programs to help Chippewa Cree Tribe members with child support issues, including an option to go through a traditional- cultural counseling rather than the courts. The reservation held a public hearing this week to collect comments on the new codes being added to the Chippewa Cree Law and Order Code under the Domestic Relations section. Brenda Gardipee, project coordinator with the Rocky Boy Child Support Program, said the planning phase is essentially complete. The Rocky Boy tribal council is in favor of the program and has already looked at the proposed codes. When public comment is incorporated and all required reports are submitted, the new codes should go into effect. “Once it’s all submitted we should be getting funding for the comprehensive program,” Gardipee said in a telephone interview from Helena this morning. The code will give the Tribe jurisdiction over its own members in issues of child support. Gardipee said Rocky Boy will be the first reservation in Montana, and one of the first in the nation, to implement its program. The planning for the project was paid for by a two-year grant through the federal Administration for Children and Families, a grant program started in the late 1990s. Once the planning phase is complete, the administration will also provide funding for the operation of the program. Gardipee said the Blackfeet Indian Reservation is now working on the planning phase of its own program. She added that tribes that have already implemented their own child support program, such as in Washington, Wyoming and Oklahoma, have been a valuable resource in creating Rocky Boy’s program. The Rocky Boy program has also worked closely with the state government in planning the program. Gardipee said the Child Support Program staff are in Helena this week for training in procedures regarding its new program. Part of the work with the state is ironing out intergovernmental agreements primarily dealing with cooperation between the tribal and state agencies, she said. The state has already used its database to help identify people over which the Tribe could have jurisdiction, with more than 1,000 names already identified. Gardipee added that number could be slightly misleading, as some of the names are duplicated in different cases. She also commended members of the tribal council for their work on the project, including John “Chance” Houle, Kelly Eagleman, Jonathan Windy Boy and Raymond Jake Parker. “They have been really supportive of this whole initiative,” Gardipee said. The first part of the proposed codes deals with determining child support obligations through the Child Support Program of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. The code deals with issues such as determining jurisdiction over classes, determining paternity, provisions for determining and modifying child support obligations, enforcing child support orders and issues of confidentiality. One of the provisions of that code is that the proceedings can be referred to as a “Traditional Circle,” also commonly known as a “peacemaker circle.” Gardipee said a family assessment done last March led to the inclusion of the Traditional Circle as an alternative to the court system. “There was overwhelming support for establishment of a Traditional Circle,” she said. If both sides of the proceedings agree, the issue can be referred to the Traditional Circle, which will attempt to resolve disputes in a more traditional and cultural forum. The circle will focus on strengthening families utilizing cultural values of the Tribe and will seek to build trusting relationships to promote resolution and healing, the Child Support Program said in a press release. Several other tribes in Montana have looked at using a similar cultural program, and some have it on paper, but as far as she knows Rocky Boy is the first reservation to actually implement its use, Gardipee said. She added that when the program was being considered, the organizers invited elders to participate in the planning at a traditional meeting. The tribal elders who attended were helpful, she said. “To me it was like they were really glad we had something like this going,” Gardipee said.