Wellness Court is now in session

Tulalip Police Officer Joe Dyer poses with participant Robin Hood during a Wellness Court session, displaying the new relationship between TPD and recovering addicts in the Healing to Wellness Court program.


By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 


The heroin and opioid epidemic has hit America hard in recent years. According to a study conducted by the University of Washington Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, thirty-one percent of deaths statewide can be credited to drug overdose. The epidemic has unfortunately claimed the lives of many loved ones nationwide. Previously, addicts who wanted to become clean would often fail because they were not provided with the proper resources and tools while attempting to become sober. In many cases, addicts are eventually caught with possession of drugs, and sometimes turn to thievery for the intent of supplying their high, and are reported to the authorities. The traditional court is a flawed system when it comes to dealing with individuals who committed a non-violent crime fueled by their addiction. For this reason, drug courts were invented. Drug courts can be found nationwide and are utilized by individuals who are battling addiction and were convicted on drug-related charges.

The state of Washington sees approximately three thousand deaths annually due to drug abuse, according to the Washington State Department of Health. In Snohomish County there are around six to seven hundred drug related casualties per year, with the largest amount of overdoses occurring in Everett, Marysville and Tulalip.  Tulalip has made an enormous effort to help heal their people in the form of the Healing to Wellness Court. There are many similarities between drug court and Tulalip’s Wellness Court, such as random drug tests, required court appearances, and numerous resources. Tulalip has modified the drug court model to fit the needs of addicted tribal members, ensuring that there’s an emphasis on culture and community with the new Wellness Court.

“The difference from drug court is mostly the integration of the cultural programs and the community the program is in. In Wellness Court we ask our participants to be in the community,” states Wellness Court judge, Ron Whitener. “A lot of the participants have to rebuild their relationships with the community because a lot of them have burned some bridges on their way into Wellness Court.  It is something positive they can work on while they are also working on their treatment and education. We want to help reintegrate them back into this community.”

Wellness Court is held once a week on Tuesdays, and participants are required to stay for the entire duration of court. The court sessions, typically an hour long, display a new twist to the traditional courtroom scene. Participants approach the podium to speak to Judge Whitener directly about their struggles and successes each week. Wellness Court uses a system of sanctions and incentives to help keep their clients on track. Sanctions include increased court appearances, community service hours and writing assignments. While incentives include gift cards, movie passes, decreased court appearances and later curfews.

“Our goal is to heal the individual completely, not just the addiction,“ states Wellness Court Coordinator Hilary Sotomish.  The Wellness Court team works as a cohesive unit, meeting weekly to review each participant’s progress, ensuring that everybody is on the same page as communication is key amongst the Wellness Court team.  The team is comprised of members from several departments including Behavioral Health and Recovery, the Healing Lodge, Housing Hope, Tulalip Housing, the Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic, University of Washington Tribal Public Defense Clinic, and the Tulalip Police Department.

The Tulalip Police Department assigned three officers to the Wellness Court team. The officers take on a new role, at least from the participant’s perspective, as they interact in a positive, supportive manner while encouraging participants during their road to recovery. Current participants are happy to see the officers in the community and often converse with the officers about their weekly progress.

Tulalip Police Chief Carlos Echevarria states, “Wellness Court allows my law enforcement officers to have greater interactions with the participants. Often the officers will stop by and say hello and ask them how they are doing. We ensure we are providing positive feedback and often the officers will take the time to listen to what the participants have to say. They are building great relationships with each other.”

The five-stage program has no fee with the exception of a fifty-dollar GPS ankle device, which is used to monitor the location of the participant as well to ensure that curfews are met. Cultural activities such as sweat lodge, red road to sobriety and other local events are encouraged.

“Our goal is to keep people involved and to work to help them. As long as the individual is showing they are committed to working and trying, we are going to keep working and trying,” states Hilary.

Tulalip tribal member Robin Hood approached the judge on his twenty-fifth day sober -an accomplishment met with tremendous applaud from the judge and the courtroom, to talk about his past week. Robin is currently staying at the Healing Lodge and attended two more than the required group therapy sessions. However, he missed one of his daily call-ins and received a write-up from the Healing Lodge, which resulted in sanctions of two hours of community service and a one-page written essay on why he missed his daily call in.

“Wellness court can be an easy process, you just got to show up every day and do what is required. It’s only hard if you make it hard, that’s my motto. My experience is going fine. I’m doing this because I know that other people will follow so I’m trying to be a leader. I think this is a positive thing for myself and for my community, and it’s working,” Hood states. “Like my dad always says, ‘it works, if you work it’. Another quote I like is, ‘chase your sobriety like you chase the dope man.’ That’s exactly how sobriety works; you got to want it. If you ain’t wanting it, you ain’t getting it. I’m really glad I’m here. The wellness team has been there to support me one hundred percent. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be clean and sober.”

For more information about the Healing to Wellness Court please contact (360) 716-4773.

New year brings new spin on justice to Tulalip

Wellness Court aims to give people the support they need to be successful 


Tulalip’s Chief Judge, Ron Whitener, speaks with community members at the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center on the benefits of the Wellness Court versus traditional court.
Tulalip’s Chief Judge, Ron Whitener, speaks with community members at the Tulalip Hibulb Cultural Center on the benefits of the Wellness Court versus traditional court.


By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 


On the first day of 2017, the Tulalip Tribes will begin to heal the community using a new approach to addiction and the court system, the Wellness Court. The philosophy behind the new court system is that by treating addiction as a disease and not a crime, the victim will have an opportunity to take advantages of resources such as counseling and treatment. Therefore, providing addicts the opportunity to slowly and comfortably transition from a habit-led life to a new life where they can begin take control back.

“This has been a long time coming and we’re very grateful for everyone coming together. It shows courage when you come together as a community and you want change. You want to help people instead of throwing them in jail. We know as Indian People that there’s a better way to help our people, a better way to help them find their journey,” stated Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon.

It has been said by numerous officials that the nation is seeing the worst drug epidemic since crack cocaine  ruled the drug scene in the 1980’s. Specifically in the state of Washington, heroin and opioids are tearing families apart and are the cause of about 30% of the state’s deaths. In Native America, those numbers are a lot worse. The Tulalip Tribes alone sees 13 times more losses due to the drug epidemic.

Tulalip Board member Les Parks serves on the committee for the Wellness Court and has been very active in getting the system up and running.

He says, “The Wellness Court concept is not new to this country. It’s been around for a long time, back then it was known as drug court. But this program is a completely different animal than the drug courts of the old days. We are adopting this new philosophy of love by wrapping our arms around our people who need us.”

Les explained that the current court system is failing when it comes to helping the people from the Tulalip area who are addicts.

“The addiction in our community is rampant and [the majority] of the people that are coming through the courts are because of crimes that are related to their addiction. We’re just recycling people. You can’t just put them in jail and expect them to get better. They do their crime, go to court, then to jail. They get out and repeat their crimes and it keeps going over and over until it’s too late. What we’re doing is not working,” Les urged.

In most cases an individual can spend anywhere from two days to six months in jail. Tulalip’s Chief Judge, Ron Whitener, stated that the jail time is not a factor in the recovery process for most addicts, and holding a person who is battling addiction in jail for six months is not cost efficient. The end result for a user fresh out of jail remains the same, they will relapse and sadly, this is when many people overdose.

For this reason, the Wellness Court’s average jail time will be two days. After the individual is released, the Wellness Program is immediately put into effect. Judge Whitener explained the difference between the traditional court system and the Wellness Court.

In traditional court, the judge remains neutral and enforces jail time. At the Wellness Court, the judge is extremely interactive and rewards positive behavior and takes the time to talk to an addict who is struggling, helping them stay on their path to sobriety.

The Wellness Court is a two-year program that will assist users by providing resources and encouragement. Resources include access to counselors in behavioral health, mental health and chemical dependency, as well as overall health care. Another service Wellness Court offers is advisement for education, job placement, and housing.

Judge Whitener states the epidemic is requiring nationwide change and that the process has to adapt to the needs of today’s society. “The courts are now moving away from the old way of business. It was this idea that when people choose to commit crimes, the way you deter them from committing more crimes is by throwing them behind bars. What we are now finding is the reason they are committing crimes is because of an addiction. They’re either trying to get money to be able to pay for the drug or they’re doing something like driving a motor vehicle while impaired by the drug,” he explains.


“By breaking the cycle we can save one of our young people that’s an addict. We can’t keep sending them to jail and giving up on them. They need us.  We can’t give up on them.”

– Marie Zackuse, Tulalip Tribes Board of Director


Chief Carlos Echevarria also serves on the council for the Wellness Court and has been working tirelessly to find a resolution for his people. He explained the heartbreaking reality that his team sees every day, addicted members of his community that have burned all their bridges with friends and family, now have nowhere to turn.

The Chief stated, “One of the most horrific things my officers have to deal with on a regular basis is when they come into contact with one of our members who has an outstanding warrant and is addicted. The jail refuses them because they are full. We attempt to reach out to their family members for additional resources for them and, because of strained relationships caused by the drugs, there aren’t any. We have to watch them walk out of our police department. It’s the absolute worst thing. We don’t know what’s going to happen to them as they leave our custody and head back to the streets. This program allows us to use a number of new resources to help those individuals and get them on the right path. We need to starve the addiction and through this program we can. Recovery is contagious.”

Katie Lancaster-Jones shared her experience with the Snohomish County Drug Court located in Everett. Katie became addicted at age 12. Her drug of choice was Meth. After being in and out of the court system, she realized that the system was not working for her. She desperately wanted to become clean so she attended the 21-month long drug court program and has been clean ever since.

“Drug court saved my life. It taught me structure. Now I am a Northwest Indian College Graduate. I am clean! And most importantly my two kids are happy and healthy,” expressed Katie.

During the month of October, the Tulalip Tribes is hosting a series of community meetings explaining in further detail, and answering all of your questions throughout the Tulalip Community. The remaining meetings will be held on Wednesday October 19 at the Tulalip Gym at 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesday October 26 at the Kenny Moses Building at 5:00 p.m. For additional information be sure to attend one of the upcoming community meetings.

Tulalip Board of Directors member Marie Zackuse urged her community to take action stating, “By breaking the cycle we can save one of our young people that’s an addict. We can’t keep sending them to jail and giving up on them, they need us. We can’t give up on them.”



Contact Kalvin Valdillez, kvaldillez@tulaliptribes-nsn.gov

Restorative Justice returning to Tulalip courthouse

Tribal Court logo


By Niki Cleary, Tulalip News 

What’s the surefire way to stop a behavior? Punish it, right? From schools, to workplaces, animal training to penitentiaries we see examples everywhere. Obviously, punishment works or we wouldn’t keep doing it. Except, in some cases, common wisdom is entirely wrong. Punishment doesn’t work, as evidenced by the number of repeat offenders in jails and prisons across the country.

First, we have to look at why people commit crime. Picture this individual: 30-something, active drug user since the eighth grade. This person began using drugs to escape from abuse that was never disclosed to the immediate family. This person has no job, is couch surfing most nights but occasionally living in a tent. This person has severe tooth decay from a combination of drug use, malnutrition and lack of dental care. Stealing and selling stolen items has become a form of income to fund a continuous supply of drugs. By the time this person is arrested and in court, the person’s family, having been lied to and stolen from when they assisted in the past, is unwilling to help the person any longer.

“The traditional Judeo Christian justice system is about stigmatization,” said Tulalip Prosecutor Brian Kilgore. “When all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. Traditionally, you do something bad and we punish you and you don’t do it again. In most places a lot of criminality is driven by drug or alcohol addiction. At the end of the day, no one wants to be an addict and nobody wants to be a criminal. Relying on a traditional justice system is not the right way to do it and not the effective way to do it.”

The solution has been around for thousands of years in Native America, it’s called restorative justice. In a self-governance class taught through Northwest Indian College, tribal Judge Mark Pouley told a story.

“August 5th 1881, a member of the Sioux tribe named Crow Dog, shot and killed the chief of the tribe, Spotted Tail,” described Pouley. “The murder was dealt with internally by the tribe, by having Crow Dog pay $600, 8 horses and one blanket. The justification for that kind of tradition is an emphasis on healing the wound to the community and the accountability for the wrongdoing is reparation to the community, to the surviving victims, that is the more important thing, the idea of reparation and healing.”

The sentiment in the nearby non-Indian community was that requiring only restitution was the opposite of justice, that the man should be hanged to ‘punish’ him for his crime. The tribe involved, however, knew that the tribal community and Crow Dog would both be better served by reintegrating Crow Dog into the community.

Unlike many small communities, tribal citizens are uniquely tied to their geographic community. Many tribes require residency or physical proximity to a reservation to be enrolled, access services and participate in governance. This means that regardless of criminal history, tribal citizens are less likely to leave the Reservation permanently. Brian explained that true justice is served by setting people up to succeed, not just punishing them when they fail. Enter the idea of a specialty courts and alternative sentencing.

“Nationally there’s a movement across the country to provide wrap-around services to people with drug addiction,” Brian described. “Specialty courts are diversion programs that focus on specific groups of people and specific causes of crime. Veterans courts have popped up, drug courts, family courts. They all allow you to keep crimes off your record.”

Instead of receiving jail or prison time for crimes, specialty courts try to find and treat root causes of crimes. Instead looking at sentencing as a way to punish a person for being bad, the court works to heal the person so they don’t behave badly.

“Overwhelming data shows that specialty courts are effective, humane and save money,” declared Brian. “They are more intensive up front, but you have less recidivism (recidivism = the tendency of a criminal to re-offend) and people are living their lives instead of coming back through the system.”

Tulalip is currently building a Healing to Wellness Court. Recall our imaginary 30-something criminal? That person is the ideal candidate for this type of court.

“It will be a uniquely Tulalip court that gives people the support they need to be successful and get to the root causes of what drives the criminal behavior,” said Brian. “A wellness court coordinator establishes linkages with other services. Users have serious medical needs. One of the things that might bring them back to substance abuse is chronic pain, mental health, trauma or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

“The current system feels a lot like a game of whack-a-mole,” described Brian. “We fix one thing then another pops up. . If all you offer an addict is housing, then in a couple years you have drug houses. If you only offer counseling, then individuals with addictions to meth move onto opiates to treat pain because they have raw exposed nerves in their teeth from tooth decay. You have to address all the issues at the same time if you want people to change. That’s not happening in our current system.

“In a lot of ways specialty courts are less punitive and more closely supervised,” Brian continued. “We’ll have someone from Behavioral Health working with us on every case, every day. A community member will make linages with cultural and community activities. There is a drug culture and you have to reintegrate them [an addict] into non-drug culture, otherwise they’ll slip back into it [addiction]. The difference is that we’re trying to put the re-integrative part back in. We’re going to help people build bridges.”

Many may recall Tulalip’s previous efforts to provide restorative justice, including the Elders’ Panel. Those efforts heaped additional duties on already strained staff, and relied heavily on unpaid staff.

“Structurally it wasn’t very robust,” said Brian. “You had a lot of people who were volunteers, there was some staff turnover and that was the end of it. What we’re doing differently is this will be part of people’s jobs and there is also funding behind it. It’s not going to be something that can fade away. We’ll be working with more departments and gathering more metrics so we can show how we’re being successful.”

Brian estimates that 25% of the court’s current caseload would be good candidates for the Healing to Wellness program.

“At the end of the day, this is a court program for anyone who is ready to make a change in their life and wants to address the reasons they’re sitting in that orange jumper. If they’re not ready to make a change, this program is not for them.

Prosecutors often have a reputation for power tripping or being just plain mean, so it may seem strange that the Prosecutor’s Office is help spearhead a less punitive and more compassionate court system.

“Long before I was in law enforcement as a lawyer I did a ride along with a Walla Walla police officer. He said, ‘every time I have an interaction with the public, I want them to say thank you.’ He was absolutely right. Police are here to serve and protect, and so are prosecutors. People should feel they were treated fairly, not that they won, but that they were treated fairly.

“It’s a great privilege to be a prosecutor. Prosecuting someone is an intervention point.  A bad prosecutor can ruin people’s lives. A good prosecutor has the power to transform the lives of people, both those that they prosecuted and those who were victims of crimes. Justice is a powerful ideal, and that’s what we’re about. A prosecutor’s job is to see justice done.”

The Tulalip Healing to Wellness Court is slated to begin January 2017. Keep your eye on the syəcəb for updates and information about the Healing to Wellness Court.