Tribal Justice

87 min. Bullfrog Films. 2017. $350. $95 (rental). ISBN 1941545882.
Gr 8 Up—Two tribes attempt to break the cycle of incarceration in this illuminating documentary. On the Northern California coast, Abby Abinanti of the Yurok Tribe has successfully established a Wellness Court that connects tribal members suffering from addiction with the resources they need to stay clean and out of prison. Near the Southern California/Arizona border, Claudette White of the Quechan Tribe advocates to bring her community's legal cases under tribal jurisdiction rather than leaving them to the state. For both tribes, restorative justice provides a critical alternative to traditional systems by focusing on healing and resolution rather than punishment and incarceration and on justice meted out by the community rather than by strangers. As Judge Abby Abinanti states, "When you restore an individual, you restore the community." Portraits of three young men further illustrate the interaction of the two systems: Taos is a former addict on his third strike; Dru has autism, epilepsy, and a family fighting to get him out of state custody; and Isaac is trying to start high school back on the reservation after years in a state-run group home. Discussions of tribal sovereignty, the legacy of boarding schools, and the Indian Child Welfare Act all contribute to a complex understanding of the impact of cultural loss, generational addiction, and a cycle of violence. At the same time, tribal members are seen drawing strength and healing from traditional drumming, singing, and dancing.
VERDICT Nuanced and poignant, this film is a highly recommended addition to classroom discussions of criminality and justice and a revealing slice of contemporary Native American life.

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