Opinion: Court project sees success in protecting Native survivors

Dancers at the Minneapolis Thanksgiving Powwo in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo from Facebook

Liza G. Garcia, a tribal-state court liaison, and Anne K. McKeig, a descendant of the White Earth Nation who will be joining the Minnesota Supreme Court, share some of the early results of the Family Court Enhancement Project, an effort to help Native domestic violence survivors and their families in Minneapolis, Minnesota:
It was late in 2013, our family court sought and obtained funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), for the opportunity to examine gaps in the family court to address domestic violence, and to improve custody and parenting outcomes for domestic violence survivors and their children. The court was one of only four courts nationwide to receive funding from the OVW for this project. Overall, the court was concerned for all domestic violence survivors and their children. We had to address whether the reach of the court’s relief was optimizing the best outcome for a domestic violence survivor and her child, regardless of the survivor’s racial and ethnic identity.

When we began our project to enhance outcomes for domestic violence survivors and their children, we convened a team of court judicial officers, court staff, attorneys, domestic violence experts, and leaders from American Indian non-profit organizations serving domestic violence survivors and their families, to create and steer the Family Court Enhancement Project (FCEP). The team, led by the Presiding Judge of Family Court, Anne K. McKeig, a descendant of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, and in partnership with White Earth Tribal Court’s Chief Judge, Robert Blaeser, sought to remove barriers impeding Native survivors of domestic violence from accessing family court and to improve outcomes for them and their children. Our family court, as an active member of the Minnesota Tribal Court/State Court forum, was also positioned to address domestic violence spanning jurisdictions.

Conscious that the FCEP’s objective is “to improve the family court’s response to custody cases involving domestic violence so that resulting parenting and co-parenting arrangements protected the emotional and physical well-being of victimized parents and their children,” for Native families, the realization of better outcomes for victimized parents and their children could not occur unless they could equitably access the family court for relief. We began a review of the court’s approaches, assumptions, mechanisms and resources that could pose a barrier to accessing our family court.

Read More from Liza G. Garcia and Anne K. McKeig:
Liza G. Garcia and Anne K. McKeig: How Minn. Courts Respond to Domestic Violence Against Indians (Indian Country Today 8/13)

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