Penobscot Nation court still going strong after three decades

The Penobscot Nation of Maine has been operating its tribal court since December 13, 1979.

The court has jurisdiction over misdemeanors, juvenile offenses, civil actions between tribal members, Indian child welfare matters and domestic relations matters between tribal members. The goal is to help people solve their own problems.

“My direction from the tribal council is to be a problem-solving court,” Stephen Brimley, the director of the Penobscot Nation Judicial System, told The Bangor Daily News. “The state court system, for the most part, deals with the symptoms that bring people to court. Here, we try to get at and deal with the root cause of the problem or problems that bring people to court.”

In civil suits, most people represent themselves. Chief Judge Eric Mehnert said the parties often come up with solutions on their own.

"Oftentimes at the end of the hearing, we will take a break and I’ll give them five minutes to come up with a resolution," Mehnert told the paper. "It’s surprising in how many cases people are able to come to some consensus.”

Major crimes committed by tribal members on the reservation are handled in federal court. Non-Indian offenders are sent to state court.

Get the Story:
Tribal court on Indian Island works to solve problems, not deal with symptoms (The Bangor Daily News 3/8)

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