Judges Smith, Wahwassuck join Cass County, Leech Lake courts to help DWI offenders
WALKER -- A ceremony celebrated Friday afternoon in Cass County District Court was something totally new. Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members brought their flag to stand between the U.S. Stars and Stripes and Minnesota state banner in a state distr...
WALKER -- A ceremony celebrated Friday afternoon in Cass County District Court was something totally new.
Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members brought their flag to stand between the U.S. Stars and Stripes and Minnesota state banner in a state district courtroom.
Well-wishers from both American Indian and non-Indian communities gathered in District Judge John P. Smith's courtroom in Walker to see the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Honor Guard set up the tribal flag. To witness the historic occasion, Cass County Board members, Rep. Frank Moe and Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and Larry Howes, R-Walker, as well as Minnesota Supreme Court Judge Lorie Gildea, crowded into the standing-room only courtroom.
Smith and Leech Lake Tribal Court Chief Judge Korey Wahwassuck joined in April to form a DWI Wellness Court. The judges preside together alternately in Cass County District Court and Leech Lake Tribal Court to help DWI offenders maintain post-conviction sobriety.
"We've exercised our sovereignty in ways that have never been heard of because this is absolutely new," said Leech Lake Tribal Chairman George Goggleye Jr. "This is truly profound in many ways. This brings on a trusting relationship with all of us. We're all stakeholders here."
The guiding principles for DWI Wellness Court involve a 10-step system, with participants reporting directly to the judges in special sessions. The judges reward the offenders' successes in staying sober and order consequences of community service or jail time for noncompliance. Wellness Court personnel work with participants to develop individualized treatment plans and set specific responsibilities and timetables.
Wahwassuck said she took the position of Leech Lake chief judge in March and began working with Smith and a law enforcement team to develop the joint courts. The Wellness Court was funded by a grant from the Minnesota Supreme Court Administrative Office.
In accepting the flag in his courtroom, Smith said the gift reflected mutual trust among law enforcement team members and both tribal and state judges.
"The Leech Lake Tribe has trusted us to respect their tribe, respect their people," he said.
"We don't have a single thing in writing about this," Smith said of the Wellness Court agreement. "It shows we don't need it ... because of the level of trust that has developed."
Wahwassuck said taking a first step is difficult, but the representation at the ceremony -- young, old, men, women and officials from all levels of government -- showed the relationships of all the people.
Cass County Attorney Earl Maus said that in 2000 Cass County and the Leech Lake Tribe signed a mutual law enforcement agreement, which gives officers from both jurisdictions joint powers.
"What that did was make all law enforcement better," he said.
Maus added that the joint court agreement will have the same effect on helping all DWI offenders in their rehabilitation.
Henry Wahwassuck, who opened the ceremony with a pipe ceremony, said he hopes the Leech Lake gift of the flag gives other entities ideas about how to work collaboratively.
"Life is just a thought, and we are what we think," he said.