Fort Peck Tribal Court judge named winner of Karla M. Gray Equal Justice Award
If there is an initiative aimed at improving access to justice for members of the Fort Peck and Assiniboine Sioux Tribes, chances are the Honorable Stacie FourStar has had a hand in it.
Judge FourStar has been chief judge of Fort Peck Tribal Court since 2015. Since then she has spearheaded several successful grant applications that allow the tribe to provide legal services at no cost to the people in the court’s jurisdiction. A Justice for Families Grant that provided the tribe with a domestic violence program that works with offenders as well as victims. A grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) allows the tribe to work with families for reintegration, providing funding for the tribe to have its own licensed addiction counselor.
For her work, Judge FourStar was chosen as the 2022 Karla M.Gray Equal Justice Award winner. Judge FourStar was nominated for the award by Montana Legal Services Association Staff Attorney Kathryn Seaton and Andrea Simons, a civil lay advocate for the Fort Peck and Assiniboine Sioux Tribes.
“Judge FourStar has been a tireless advocate for Montana Legal Services Association’s work at Fort Peck,” Seaton wrote in her nomination letter. “She is always available to provide insight, advice, and connections for any new projects to increase availability of legal aid services at MLSA. Most recently, she has supported our Tribal Advocacy Incubator Project, regularly participates in the Advisory Board meetings, and is serving as an instructor to share her knowledge with the participants.
Judge FourStar said it was a total shock to receive the award – since she doesn’t publicize her work she said she was surprised anyone knew about it.
“It is such an honoring, humbling experience,” she said.
Judge FourStar said the grant money has had a visible impact in the Fort Peck Tribal Court jurisdiction. For instance, the SAMSHA grant has allowed the tribe to service 101 clients for treatment in the three years since it was received. Previously, the court was only able to provide treatment for a handful of people a year.
Judge FourStar has also been actively involved in implementation of VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) special domestic violence jurisdiction at Fort Peck. In her nomination letter, Seaton said Fort Peck is the only tribe in Montana exercising this jurisdiction, which is integral to providing protection and safety to Indigenous survivors of domestic violence.
Other efforts to reduce victimization of indigenous people Judge FourStar has also been involved in include Tribal Access Points, Tribal Justice Coordinating Committee, and Sex Offender Management. She is actively involved in the Fort Peck Community, through the Johnson-O’Malley Program to address educational needs of American Indian Students, the Wolf Point Community Organization which works to expand development at Fort Peck, as well as assisting with cultural committees and event.
Judge FourStar’s impact on the justice system doesn’t end at the tribal border. A member of the Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, she has also been appointed to the Montana Missing Indigenous Persons Task Force, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Person Review Commission and the Native American Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team under the Attorney General Austin Knudsen. She currently serves as the president of the Northern Plains Tribal Judges Association and the Montana Wyoming Tribal Judges Association. She also serves as a representative with the National American Indian Court Judges Association.
She received her Juris Doctor from the University of North Dakota School of Law, with a certificate of specialization in Indian Law. Before becoming chief judge, she served as a prosecutor for the Fort Peck Tribes.
She presides over all cases of general jurisdiction and serves as the judge for the Family Healing to Wellness Court (drug court). She also oversees the Juvenile Healing to Wellness Court, DUI Court, Truancy Court and the Domestic Violence docket. She says she strives to utilize sentencing alternatives working toward rehabilitation and works with tribal communities to bring awareness by outreach.