Tulalip Tribal Court Elders Panel receives Local Hero Award

TULALIP — The Washington State Bar Association recently presented the Tulalip Tribal Court Elders Panel with its Local Hero Award, which is given by the WSBA Board of Governors to those whom they believe have made noteworthy contributions to their communities.

The Board of Governors met in Tulalip July 24-25, and WSBA President Mark Johnson presented the award at a special reception, attended by members of the Board, as well as those of the local bench and bar.

The Tulalip Tribal Court Elders Panel is a diversion program that uses the traditional Tulalip method of drawing on the wisdom and experience of respected elders to teach young defendants how to conduct themselves as members of the Tribe. The panel is composed of volunteers who are respected Tulalip elders or seniors. Currently, the panel consists of Virginia Carpenter, Donald Hatch Jr., Katherine Monger, Eleanor Neilson, William Shelton, Lee Topash and Arthur Williams Sr.

Young Native American adults over the age of 18 are referred, at their request, to the Elders Panel by the Tulalip Tribal Court for minor criminal offenses, such as possession of alcohol or marijuana, or criminal mischief. The panel meets with the offenders, obtains information about the offenses committed, and sets out plans for the youths to follow, which may include community service, letters of apology, anger-management classes, drug testing, spiritual activity or interviewing relatives to create a family tree. Defendant are given deferred prosecutions on their criminal charges for a year, while they work with the Elders Panel. Upon successful completion of the program, the charges are dismissed. The goals of the program are to reconnect defendants with their Tribal Elders and values, to make them less likely to commit future offenses, and to avoid criminal records.

"With the ones who are successful in Elder Court, we don't wind up with them back in criminal court," said WSBA member and Tulalip Tribal Court Judge Gary Bass, who has referred more than 25 youths to the Elder Panel in the past three years. "You get them to start learning about their culture, their heritage, and you can actually change the way they act in their life."

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