The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has been awarded a half-million-dollar grant from the federal government to enhance its tribal court and to create a new wellness court to address “the devastation of alcohol and other drugs,” a tribal official said Thursday.
Laurie Perry-Henry, judiciary coordinator for the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal court, said a portion of the three-year, $567,236 grant would be used to create a comprehensive approach to substance abuse offenders that combines close supervision and drug testing with treatment, rehabilitation and community support.
The wellness court concept is borrowed from several tribes in the West, including in Alaska, which have had success with programs for people charged with drug and alcohol offenses that challenge them with structure and accountability as well as surround them with tribal values and a spiritual path to healing. The operation of the courts is guided by each Indian nation’s culture, tradition, common practices and vision.
Studies have shown that getting tribal legal systems working closely with other community resources can help reduce substance abuse and integrate offenders more broadly into tribal life, Ms. Perry-Henry said. She said she knew of no other wellness courts in the Northeast.
“Our court is like a traditional peacemaking court, so we try to settle issues rather than be punitive,” she said.
The Wampanoag tribe is one of about 150 American Indian and Alaskan Native nations across the country to share in $118.4 million in 2011 Justice Department grants designed to help native populations reduce crime and improve law enforcement. Grant applications were due in April, and grants were announced this week by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
The Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal court, under the supervision of judicial chief F. Ryan Malonson, has jurisdiction over a range of civil issues that occur on tribal lands. The 2011 grant builds on two three-year grants received last year from the Justice Department by the tribe, Ms. Henry-Perry said. One grant for $265,000 helped establish tribal court programs in child welfare, landlord-tenant issues and juvenile delinquency. Another grant for $171,000 is being used to set up a sex offender registry, she said. (The tribe also received a third grant last year for victims’ services, but that is administered separately, she said.) The grant program was streamlined this year so tribes could only submit a single application.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz of Boston, who announced the grant on Wednesday, said in a statement that the funds were being provided “to enhance and continue a traditional tribal justice system which is designed to articulate Aquinnah Wampanoag values, enable greater tribal self-governance, strengthen the economic and cultural health of the tribe, and build tribal court capacity at the local and state levels.”
Awards made under the program are in eight “purpose areas,” including public safety and community policing, methamphetamine enforcement, justice systems and alcohol and substance abuse, corrections and correctional alternatives, violence against women, elder abuse, juvenile justice and tribal youth programs.
Ms. Ortiz said the Wampanoag tribe has “developed solid strategies that exude their genuine desire to strengthen and preserve the integrity of the tribe.”
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) received federal recognition in 1987, creating a government-to-government relationship with the federal government. According to its Web site, there are currently 1,099 members enrolled in the tribe, of which 68 live on tribal lands in the town of Aquinnah and 298 live in Dukes County.