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Report: ND program to support tribal youth is sustainable

BISMARCK (AP) — A program that allows North Dakota to provide court services to tribal youth is sustainable and beneficial, according to a new report.

Last year, the Spirit Lake Tribe signed the first memorandum of understanding with state officials for a 5-year pilot project, the Bismarck Tribune reported. Out of five Native American tribes in the state, the Spirit Lake is the only one to sign an agreement.

The Legislature passed a law in 2019 allowing for tribal juvenile services cooperative agreements to provide services for youth adjudicated in tribal courts.

The law is set to expire after July 2021, but the state Supreme Court will propose that it be extended for two more years, said Sally Holewa, a state court administrator. She noted that there hasn’t been much time or participation to properly evaluate it.

So far, six young people have received services, including risk and needs assessments, after the Spirit Lake Tribal Court started sharing case data with state agencies in February.

The July report acknowledges that more time is needed to assess the project’s effectiveness and to decide whether more resources and funding are necessary. The law did not include any funding, but advocates assured lawmakers that services would be provided through existing resources.

Joe Vetsch, a Spirit Lake Tribal court chief judge, said the agreement is good for sharing resources, technical assistance and building relationships. But he noted that budget cuts has made staffing a problem.

“I’m hopeful numbers are going to increase, and I’m hopeful that we’re going to see more kids accessing more services, but it’s kind of early in the process,” Vetsch said.

Lisa Bjergaard, the division of juvenile services director, said she hopes that her agency can continue this work.

“We have tribal and state authorities working cooperatively between governments, and internal to each of those governments we have professionals working across branches,” Bjergaard said. “And when have you seen that?”

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