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Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Receives Award for Joint Tribal-State Wellness Courts

Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Court has received "Honors" from the Harvard Honoring Nations Program of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development for their Joint Tribal-State Wellness Courts.  The award identifies and celebrates outstanding examples of tribal governance, and to facilitate the dissemination of best practices, it comes with a $10,000 prize that can be used to share the success story with other governments.

"Leech Lake received the honors for its joint jurisdicton work with the Ninth Judicial District of Minnesota," said Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribal Court Associate Judge Korey Wahwassuck.  "Also, the joint powers agreements involved were the first of their kind in the nation, and our wellness courts have become a national model of judicial collaboration."

In 2006, Leech Lake set aside generations of racial tension that existed between the tribe and its non-native neighbors in order to focus on community healing.  As a result, a DWI Wellness Court was formed by the Leech Lake Tribal Court and Cass County District Court to adjudicate and rehabilitate substance abusers.  One year later, Leech Lake established a second Wellness Court in collaboration with Itasca County District Court.

The Wellness Courts operate under a joint powers agreement and serve both native and non-native people.  They function as multi-agency advocacy and enforcement teams within the existing justice system, making offenders accountable to their individualized treatment plans.  Tribal and District Court judges preside over program hearings in both courts to help DWI offenders maintain post-conviction sobriety.  Since its inception, the Joint Tribal-State Jurisdiction has grown in capacity, outreach, impact, and success and stands as an outstanding example of expanded self-governance.

A Harvard Project Board of Governors comprised of distinguished individuals from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors guides the evaluation process for Harvard Honoring Nations, in which up to 10 programs are selected for “High Honors” or “Honors.”  At each stage of the selection process, programs are evaluated on the basis of effectiveness, significance to sovereignty, cultural relevance, transferability, and sustainability.