Indigenous people in the United States face disproportionately high rates of incarceration and family separation through the foster care system. Episode 8 explores the Yurok Tribal Court’s efforts to keep families together.

AMERICAN DIAGNOSIS with Dr. Céline Gounder

[email protected] (KFF Health News and JUST HUMAN PRODUCTIONS)

S4E8 / Tribal Values, Tribal Justice / Abby Abinanti, Ursula Running Bear, Blythe George

JUL 14, 202222 MIN
AMERICAN DIAGNOSIS with Dr. Céline Gounder

S4E8 / Tribal Values, Tribal Justice / Abby Abinanti, Ursula Running Bear, Blythe George

JUL 14, 202222 MIN


Abby Abinanti is chief judge of the Yurok Tribal Court and a member of the tribe. 

While previously working in the California court system, she was discouraged and angered by the number of cases in which Indigenous families were separated or tribal members were removed from their communities because of nontribal foster care placements or incarceration. The Prison Policy Initiative, a research and advocacy organization, found that Native people are overrepresented in jails in the United States.

Abinanti said the Yurok Tribal Court is helping to address these disparities. The court is one of roughly 400 operated by federally recognized tribes in the United States. These courts reflect the values of their communities, and Abinanti said for the Yurok that means prioritizing restoration over punishment.

“I don't think any human being is disposable,” she said. “Our system is designed to help you return to the community and be an asset in the community.” 

Episode 8 explores the intergenerational impact of historical traumas on the Yurok people and a local tribal court’s work to meet community needs.

Click here for a transcript of the episode.

Voices from the Episode: 

  • Abby AbinantiChief judge, Yurok Tribal Court
  • Ursula Running Bear  – Assistant professor of public health at the University of North Dakota
  • Blythe GeorgeAssistant professor of sociology at University of California-Merced

Season 4 of “American Diagnosis” is a co-production of KHN and Just Human Productions.

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