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The Tribal Judicial Institute was established in 1993 with an award from a private foundation, the Bush Foundation, to provide training and technical assistance to twenty tribal courts in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. Since then, the Institute has expanded to become a national institute and has conducted over 500 local, regional and national training sessions for approximately 250 different tribal courts and tribal agencies throughout the nation. The Institute’s trainings have focused primarily on tribal law enforcement development and enhancement, as well as the design and enhancement of tribal justice systems for adults and youth. In 1998, the Institute became one of the initial grantees of the Bureau of Justice Assistance under BJA’s Tribal Court Assistance Program. In 2001, the Institute was asked by BJA to coordinate the Tribal Court Assistance Program and since that time has served as the primary technical assistance provider to the over 250 Indian tribes that have received funding under the Tribal Court Assistance Project. The TCAP program was conceived under DOJ’s Indian Country Law Enforcement Initiative and its primary focus has been assuring safety for native communities by providing funding to Indian tribes to improve the collaboration between law enforcement and the Courts and to assist local tribal initiatives to respond to crime in Indian country. Tribal Justice issues have always been a priority for the Tribal Judicial Institute. Under the TCAP program the Institute helped coordinate two “Listening” conferences where tribal leaders in Alaska and tribal leaders in the lower 48 United States were able to come together with federal and state policy makers and express their concerns about crime in their communities.
The Institute also has extensive experience providing cross-discipline training and training designed to enhance federal-tribal cooperation. From 1998-2002 the Institute received funding from the Office for Victims of Crime to deliver training events for federal and tribal prosecutors and Judges on the prosecution of child sexual abuse in Indian country. From 1998 to 2002 the Institute delivered 12 trainings for over 200 tribal and federal judges on this important topic to Indian country and utilized both federal and tribal prosecutors as trainers and facilitators. The Institute has played a key role in tribal-state court forums in North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as assisting in the creation of a tribal-federal judges’ forum in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Institute has also served as a technical assistance provider for Sacred Circle, the federally-funded technical assistance provider for Indian Tribes on the Violence against Women Act and domestic violence in Indian country, and other organizations committed to ending violence in Indian families such as the Family Violence Prevention Fund.
In addition to these federal initiatives the Institute provides a variety of other types of technical assistance to Indian Tribes across the country. At present the Institute is involved with the National Commission on Uniform laws and United Sioux Tribes to provide training to Indian tribes on the development of uniform commercial codes to increase economic opportunities in Indian country. The Institute also has been extensively involved in improving tribal responses to juvenile justice issues in their communities and has developed curricula and written materials to assist Indian tribes in this arena.
The Institute is staffed by experienced personnel whose strongest attributes are that they are actively involved in tribal justice systems and work daily with tribal entities committed to assisting youth in the tribal communities they serve and assist. The Executive Director of the Institute, BJ Jones, has over 18 years experience as a tribal judge for various Tribes in the Northern Plains area. He currently serves as Chief Judge for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate and its Treatment Court. Jones also serves as the Chief Justice for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a Tribe that has been particularly hard hit by methamphetamine use by young persons. In addition to Jones’ e teaches Criminal Law and Jurisdiction in Indian Country, Tribal Law, and a seminar on the Indian Child Welfare Act at the University of North Dakota School of. Jones is ably assisted by his Associate Director, Michelle Rivard Parks, who has over 10 years experience working in Indian country as a prosecutor and tribal attorney and who has worked in the juvenile justice arena since 1997. In addition, Parks has taught Federal Indian Law and served as a faculty member at many regional and national training events. She and Jones serve on the North Dakota Supreme Court’s Tribal-State Judges’ Committee and Jones on the Minnesota committee. Melissa Aaker currently serves as the administrator and is responsible for coordinating the training and scholarships for the grantees and other tribes funded through the Tribal Court Assistance Program (TCAP). She works with over 100 tribes to assist in the development and delivery of training programs, coordinates onsite activities, and facilitates logistic details for all events. Melissa has helped coordinate at-risk youth programs in the past in the Grand Forks community.
Each staff member has extensive experience as national trainers and facilitators on a variety of tribal issues with Jones presenting at over 200 national and regional conferences since 1995 including the Indian Nations Conference, Department of Justice events, United States Federal Courts conferences, the Federal Bar Association, American Bar Association events and National American Indian Court Judges’ Conferences and Parks at Department of Justice, American Bar Association, and other events. TJI also currently employs approximately ten law students to provide legal research, develop materials and resources and to assist tribes with their technical assistance needs (ie. sample codes, legal research, etc).
TJI employees can be contacted as follows:
B.J. Jones, Director
Michelle Rivard Parks, Assistant Director
Melissa Aaker, Administrative Assistant