Amanda Rockman stood back from the podium during her keynote address, as dictated by her nine-month-pregnant belly. Rockman spoke at the Coming Together of Peoples Conference, just seven years after she graduated from the UW Law School
“I can remember being in law school and thinking, ‘Jeeze, I really hope that’s me someday giving that keynote address,’” said Rockman. “[I thought] when I go, I’ll have long, grey hair.”
Rockman, despite her lack of grey hairs, plays an important role in the Ho-Chunk tribe as an associate trial judge. Rockman presented about the Ho-Chunk Healing to Wellness Court, a drug court operated by the tribal judiciary that provides an alternative to prison.
The wellness court offers a non-punitive treatment that works to “restore traditional values,” explained Rockman. The Ho-Chunk Nation consists of pockets of land throughout the state, but the Healing to Wellness program serves native and non-native offenders in Jackson County.
The court has special jurisdiction allotted by the legislature, and the program includes community service requirements, cultural activities, education, and rehabilitation services.
The Ho-Chunk tribe has assumed more judicial responsibility while also developing their tribal police force. As Wisconsin remains a Public Law 280 state, the tribe is not allowed to prosecute felonies. Rockman and other Native American law specialists strive for more sovereignty for law enforcement and prosecution.
The Menominee tribe in Wisconsin regained full criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanor and felony crimes. Anecdotes from the Menominee prosecutor at the conference, however, made it clear that tribes with criminal jurisdiction are still working out kinks in their judicial systems. They still have limits on the length of sentenced prison terms as well as ongoing struggles with funding and staff support within tribal legal systems.
The Lac Courte Oreilles tribal police are co-deputized with the Sawyer County police. The tribal police address misdemeanors on the reservation while the county takes on the rest. Because of this relationship the tribal and county police can also work together.
Tribal communities maintain a balance of cooperation with and independence from local law enforcement and jurisdiction, and each tribe faces unique issues. Each tribe has different revenue, and while many of them have casinos for community income, geographic location often affects the success of the casinos. Location, funding sources, and relationships with local law enforcement all affect how tribes are able to address crime on their reservations.
Ho-Chunk’s drug court illustrates a tribal judiciary working to better the tribe and surrounding community through rehabilitation. The Healing to Wellness Court allows the Ho-Chunk to address the addictions that drive repeat crimes, rather than repeatedly provide the same punishments to the same offenders.
As CJ Doxtater, Oneida member and advocate at Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence, explained, “we don’t throw our people away.”
Rockman outlined all the logistics and challenges that face the growing Healing to Wellness Court and touched on the growing responsibility assumed by the Ho-Chunk judiciary and law enforcement. Despite the challenges, Rockman felt good about gaining sovereignty for the tribal nation and working to improve the community.
“I think it’s really important for Ho-Chunk people to have the ability to become a part of our society, as opposed to just shame and guilt,” said Rockman. “What I’ve seen from the participants has been nothing but hope.”