The Red Lake Nation reservation is in Northern Minnesota and serves the towns of Red Lake, Redby, Ponemah, and Little Rock. The tribe has 10,000 members, 5,000 of whom live on the reservation. Approximately 10 years ago, the tribe decided that it wanted to address the issue of juvenile justice in a more holistic manner. The tribe developed the Creating Restitution and Following Traditions (CRAFT) program to divert youth from the court system and connect them to their cultural heritage.
When youth are arrested, the tribal court can choose to send them to the CRAFT program, rather than placing them in the juvenile justice system. Generally, these youth are first time offenders and have committed minor offenses such as truancy, breaking and entering, or damaging property. Parents may also voluntarily enroll their children in the program. Program staff believe that if they can intervene at a time when youth have engaged in minor offenses, it will prevent them from committing more serious crimes in the future.
Youth generally participate in the CRAFT program for approximately 2 days per week for a period of 12 to 16 weeks, and transportation is provided by the program. They are involved in a variety of activities, which are dictated by the season and designed to immerse youth in their cultural heritage. Activities include berry picking, making jams, jellies, and syrups, deer hunting, sugar bush camp, and tending vegetable gardens. The program is currently able to provide one-on-one supervision and mentoring for these activities. Each youth in the program creates a restitution gift through one of the program activities and presents it to the victim of their wrongdoing.
The CRAFT program invites parents to participate in activities and join in larger celebrations, such as feasts, although this is sometimes difficult to coordinate with parents’ schedules. Program staff also facilitate more informal communication between youth and parents, which can be critical in helping families maintain relationships during stressful times.
One struggle that CRAFT staff have experienced is implementing the program in the wake of gang activity in the community. At first, members of two rival gangs attended the program simultaneously, which resulted major tensions. However, staff were able to address this difficulty by holding sessions on different days for these youth so that all participants could fully take part in program activities without feeling uncomfortable.
Youth have responded very positively to CRAFT, and the program has experienced a low recidivism rate. Many youth continue to keep in touch with, and update program staff on their current and future plans. Recently, one youth in the program informed the staff that he had decided to return to school after dropping out. Some youth also continue participate in CRAFT after completing the program because of the positive connections they have made with staff members and cultural activities.
In the near future, the tribe will begin implementing White Bison’s Daughters and Sons of Tradition, which will enable young men and women to create healthy lifestyles and embrace their cultural identities. The program also focuses on helping youth to show respect for themselves and the people and environment around them.
Program staff are also very excited about moving from their space in the courthouse to their own building. Their current space is small and there has been concern that CRAFT’s physical connection to the courthouse may intimidate youth attending the program for the first time. This new location will enable the program to have its own space and use a significantly larger area for activities and gardening. Staff view this move as the first of many expansions they hopes to see in the future in order to continue improving the lives of youth in the community.