Native American Community Engagement Initiative to Focus on Improving Trust and Confidence in the Courts

Native American Community Engagement Initiative to Focus on Improving Trust and Confidence in the Courts

Friday, December 21, 2018

Improving the trust and confidence of Nebraska’s Native American communities in the court system is the primary goal of a grant received by the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission. The Commission is co-chaired by Supreme Court Justice Stephanie Stacy and Nebraska State Bar Association Executive Director Liz Neeley.  It is one of six recipients of a National Center for State Courts Public Engagement grant.

Nebraska’s public engagement initiative is designed to:

  • Improve Native Americans’ public trust and confidence in the courts;
  • Improve the state and federal courts’ confidence in and understanding of the tribal court system;
  • Identify ways to address disparate treatment in the court system with a specific focus on addressing jurisdictional issues among the tribal, state and federal courts and law enforcement entities; and
  • Improve judicial awareness and training regarding the realities faced by Native American populations in Nebraska.

This past summer, Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican hosted a Tribal Roundtable with representatives from the four Nebraska based tribes and the state and federal courts to discuss areas of mutual concern among Nebraska’s court systems. An outgrowth of that roundtable meeting was the creation of the Nebraska Consortium of Tribal, State and Federal Courts, co-chaired by the Hon. Andrea Miller, district court judge of Nebraska’s 12th Judicial District and the Hon. Patrick Runge, chief judge of the Winnebago Tribal Court and Ponca Tribal Court. The Consortium is housed within the Nebraska Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission under the direction of Supreme Court Justice Stephanie Stacy.

According to Judge Andrea Miller, “The Nebraska Consortium of Tribal, State and Federal Courts was established to improve the working relationship between sovereign court systems and ultimately to improve the delivery of justice to the Native American people who rely on our courts. It is key that leaders from the tribal, state and federal courts are participating in this initiative together, and have committed to addressing and improving the issues that impact Native American’s trust and confidence in our courts.” 

Beginning in 2019, the Consortium of Tribal, State and Federal Courts will convene a number of public hearings, or discussion sessions, in areas based on their proximity to Native American populations in Nebraska. Participants will be given the opportunity to share their experiences and perceptions of the Tribal, State and federal courts, and the information gathered through these discussion sessions will help to inform the future work of the Consortium in facilitating communication and collaboration between tribal, state, and Federal court systems.  These discussion sessions will be promoted in collaboration with the tribes and will include outreach to community leaders. Participants will be kept informed of the work and progress of the Consortium.

Justice Stephanie Stacy noted, “By giving voice to our Native American communities and listening to the concerns of those who look to our tribal, state and federal courts to deliver swift, fair justice, we hope to improve the justice system in Nebraska and increase public trust and confidence in our courts.”