Washington Supreme Court Visits Tribal Land For Public Outreach, To Hear Cases

May 7, 2018

Washington Supreme Court justices will be in northeastern Washington Tuesday to hear three cases in Nespelem, where the Confederated Tribes of the Colville are headquartered.

Legally, this land is sovereign— which means it’s a separate nation. It may be the first known time state Supreme Court proceedings have happened on sovereign tribal land.

Justices seated on Washington’s Supreme Court have been visiting communities around the state three times a year for roughly a decade as a way to demystify the judicial process and engage the public.

“Education is always helpful and we are learning and we’re thinking of things we haven’t thought about before,” Associate Justice Steve Gonzalez said.

“We’re also learning about the tribal court, but we are also learning about our own in contrast to the tribal court, because you understand your own better when you compare it to another,” he added.

Anita Dupris is the chief justice for the Colville Tribes’ Court of Appeals.

“It’s really actually ground breaking for tribes to actually have the Supreme Court or a state court with this much prestige to come to our reservation,” Dupris said. “And it does show a respect to the tribes and the tribal courts and it shows the working relationship that we have developed over the past few decades.”

During a public forum, the justices openly answered questions on everything from the level of diversity on the panel, to equal justice under state and sovereign laws and even how to run an election campaign. Washington Supreme Court Justices are elected by the public.