Tribal Court Finances

Tribal courts all over the nation are under funded, but particularly the ones in Alaska. Most tribal courts in Alaska are served by volunteer judges, and tribal court clerk duties are added to a tribal position that is likely already overextended such as the tribal ICWA employee. The positive side of using volunteer judges is that people are serving the tribe in this way because they really care from the heart, viewing it as a community service that has rewards other than dollars. On the other hand, it takes money and food to live in this world and volunteers sometimes have to forgo tribal court service to attend to paid jobs and subsistence activities. A meeting fee or small stipend for tribal court judges could prove very helpful for making tribal courts run more smoothly. Also, there is always a financial need for equipment, office supplies, copying and postage for the tribal court, as well as for on-going tribal court training for judges and clerks.

Most tribal courts in Alaska operate out of tribal council offices, depending almost entirely on them for space to hold hearings, a place to keep records, for office supplies and telecommunication expenses, and for staff to fill the role of tribal court clerk. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has limited funding for tribal court support and has a policy of not directly funding tribal courts in Public Law 280 states, which Alaska is. Many tribes in Alaska apply for and receive grant money for training and development of tribal courts through the Department of Justice. The grants are offered each year and are bundled under an umbrella application called Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS). Information on those grants can be found on the Department of Justice website. Grant funding is very helpful for developing tribal courts and for providing training. Grant money is temporary, so it is important not to build the tribal court strictly on grant money which may go away in the future, and hence the tribal court as well.

Tribal courts may charge fees for using its services, such a doing an adoption through the tribal court. If fees are being used by the court, there should be a fee schedule available to anyone who wants to use the court. Tribal courts sometimes issue fines as part of sentencing, and it generally is the duty of the clerk to collect such fines. The clerk should have a receipt book for collection of such fees and fines. Even though tribal court finances may be small, an accounting system specifically for handling the finances of the tribal court should be established. The clerk is generally the person to manage such an account, and responsible for reporting on it to the court and council.