By Joe Morey News Editor
The Lac Courte Oreilles (LCO) Tribal Court held its first informational advisory meeting on Thursday, May 30, 2019 with a large group of tribal stakeholders to discuss the new Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program.
Lac Courte Oreilles received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to create a Tribal Healing to Wellness Court. According to Susan Aasen, the Healing to Wellness Court Coordinator, the project goal is to enhance the outcomes for youth and families by integrating a problem-solving approach to address the specific, chronic and underlying problems of substance abuse by parties involved with the Tribal Court system.
“For this program to be most effective, this judicial approach must be grounded in Ojibwe culture and traditions,” Aasen said.
Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Court Administrator, Bill Trepanier, and Susan Aasen, Program Coordinator hosted the meeting to discuss two important committees that will assist the Tribal Court in making this program a success. A Multidisciplinary Steering Committee will meet quarterly and a Wellness Case Planning Team will meet every 2 weeks to work with individuals in the program. Cultural advisors will have a key role in both committees for the program.
Aasen said it is anticipated that by the end of year three, the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program will have provided at least 30 individuals and their families with wellness court services to deter substance abuse and improve general behavior and lifestyle choices.
Assisting the LCO Tribal Court in establishing the Healing to Wellness Court is Chief Judge Eric Mehnert of the Penobscot Tribe of Maine. Mehnert and his team will be at LCO every two weeks for the next three months.
“LCO is very fortunate to receive the assistance of the Judge Mehnert,” Aasen said.
Court Administrator Trepanier said he was able to find federal grant dollars to fund Mehnert and his team to assist the tribe. Additionally, the Tribal Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) is providing guidance and training manuals developed over several years.
Mehnert, who has served Penobscot since 2008, said he believes Healing to Wellness Courts are the future of criminal courts. He added states call them drug courts but they are more punitive than they should be.
“Wellness Courts have changed the community perception on addiction,” Mehnert told the LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB). “There is hope for recovery.”
LCO tribal programs, such as Indian Child Welfare, Child Support, Housing, Schools, Headstart, and Juvenile Truancy can refer individuals to the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program. Individuals can voluntarily request to be included in the Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program.
Aasen said they are also hoping to work with Sawyer County Judge John Yackel to refer cases over to the Healing to Wellness Court. “We have to come up with a Memorandum of Understanding with the judge before this can happen.”
The Healing to Wellness approach is based upon incentives to assist individuals to make better life choices by becoming drug free, Aasen explained. “The incentive approach can be compared to a regular court system that operates on a punitive approach, which does not effectively work in drug addiction cases.”
Once an individual is a Tribal Healing to Wellness Court participant, a Case Manager will work closely with the individual who has substance abuse issues.
“Perhaps the participant needs inpatient treatment to address addiction. The Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Case Manager will work with medical and treatment providers such as the LCO Clinic and Coordinated Community Services (CCS) to establish funding for treatment,” Aasen explained. “A unique feature of the program is Ojibwe culture, which can include use of the sweat lodge, obtaining an Indian name, learning about Ojibwe culture, and speaking with cultural advisors for personal cultural growth.”
Judge Mehnert told the TGB a participant will check in with their case manager three times a week and they will also be drug tested three times a week.
The Case Manager and individual will develop a case plan which includes connecting with community resources in Tribal Programs, LCO College, Vocational Rehabilitation, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Probation Department, Tribal Court Attorneys, Tribal Court Lay Advocates, Tribal Community Members, Tribal Culture programs and many other programs that can be of assistance.
“The Wellness Case Planning Committee and the individual will meet in an Ojibwe cultural setting to discuss the individual’s efforts toward sobriety and abstinence from drugs,” Aasen said.
Every two weeks the planning committee will meet to see how the participant is doing and what they can do for the person, Judge Mehnert added. He said in the Healing to Wellness Court program the judge will ask the participant how he/she is doing and will actually spend some time with them.
“The addiction lifestyle is not the drug disorder itself and it’s not the criminal conduct itself. It is a deeper cause of trauma, historical and personal trauma, that is the root cause of a person’s addiction,” Mehnert said.
Mehnert told the TGB participants will only change their behavior with positive reinforcement. “If there’s a cultural community connection the greater chance of their recovery, but negative reinforcement drives up recidivism.”
Mehnert said statistics show that 76.9% of substance-related crimes in jail will end up back in jail but the number drops to 67% after participation in a Healing to Wellness Court.
“The real success of the Wellness program is the input of the Case Planning team because of the different perspectives,” Mehnert said.
The Penobscot Tribal Court developed a short video about their culture-based Tribal Healing to Wellness Court program. The link for this video is at: You Tube Penobscot Nation Vice News. The video title is “A Native American Tribe is using Traditional Culture to Fight Addiction.”
Aasen described to those at the informational meeting the positive operations of other tribes who have Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts. Five other tribes in Wisconsin have Healing to Wellness courts. They are Lac du Flambeau, Ho-Chunk, Bad River – juvenile, Forest County Potawatomi and Menominee.
“It is anticipated that the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program will start receiving referrals within three months,” Aasen said.
Questions about the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Healing to Wellness Court Program can be directed to Susan Aasen at (715) 634-8934 or firstname.lastname@example.org for emails.
Penobscot Tribal Chief Judge Mehnert (left) with LCO Tribal Court Administrator, Bill Trepanier