Joint state-tribal wellness court officially established

Alaska’s first joint state-tribal wellness court was officially established Thursday.

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Governor Bill Walker, Lt. Governor Byron Mallot and Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth were on hand to witness the signing.

Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran says the government-to-government Memorandum of Understanding comes after years of preparations between the Kenaitze Indian Tribe on the Kenai Peninsula and the state.

“It’s the first time that a state court and a tribal court have worked collaboratively,” Moran said. “And so we’re both gonna be sitting on the bench each and every case working together for our community, particularly surrounding substance abuse.”

Moran says the U.S. Department of Justice gave training and technical assistance in the design and implementation of the project.

There are less than a handful of similar courts across the country, but early statistics indicate they have reduced repeat offenses.

Kenaitze Tribal Chief Judge Kimberley Sweet said the hope is other communities will also follow suit.

“With the drug and alcohol epidemic that our state and our nation are facing, we’re hoping that this is going to be successful and it just takes over like a steamroller and goes across the state,” Sweet said.

However, Sweet warns against a cookie cutter approach to implementing the program. She says each of the 231 Federally recognized tribes in Alaska is unique with their own laws and issues.

The two judges said if all the details get worked out in the next few weeks they could be hearing their first cases before Thanksgiving.