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‘American Diagnosis’: A California Tribal Court Is Working To Heal Family Divorce

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Episode 8: “Tribal Values, Tribal Justice”

Abby Abinanti is Chief Justice of the Yurok Tribal Court and member of the tribe.

While previously working in the California justice system, she was disheartened and angered by the number of cases of native families being separated or tribal members being removed from their communities for placement in non-tribal foster care or incarceration. The Prison Policy Initiative, a research and advocacy organization, found that Indigenous people are overrepresented in prisons across the United States.

Abinanti said the Yurok Tribal Court is helping to address these differences. The court is one of approximately 400 administered by federally recognized tribes in the United States. These courts reflect the values ​​of their communities, and Abinanti told the Yurok that recovery should be prioritized over punishment.

“I don’t think a human is disposable,” she said. “Our system is designed to help you return to the community and be an asset to the community.”

Episode 8 explores the intergenerational impact of historical trauma on the Yurok people and the work of a local tribal court to meet the needs of the community.

Voices from the episode:

  • Abby AbinantiChief Justice, Yurok Tribal Court
  • Ursula Running Bearassistant professor of public health at the University of North Dakota
  • Blythe Georgeassistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Merced

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production of KHN and Just Human Productions.

Our editorial advisory board includes: Jourdan Bennett-BegayeAlastair Bitzoicand Bryan Pollard.

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national editorial that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operational programs of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

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