Intertribal court has new home on Rincon reservation

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VALLEY CENTER, Calif. – Six years after $150,000 was secured from the Justice Department to create a judicial system for a cluster of Indian tribes in San Diego County and an incremental process to reach permanence, the Intertribal Court of Southern California has its home.

Area Indian tribes dedicated the new justice center, which includes a court room, Aug.1 on the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians reservation.

Now, 10 member tribes can settle disputes, resolve criminal matters and seek other legal assistance at the centrally located reservation in the heart of San Diego County’s Indian country.

The ICSC’s former office was located in a storefront in downtown Escondido on off-reservation land and court proceedings were held at various reservations, said the court’s administrator, Temet Aguilar.

“Moving to Rincon actually gives us a centrally located courthouse and we are expected to have more hearings,” he said.

“It’s a matter of sovereignty. That’s why we are doing it right here, right now, making the positive changes we want, through our own tribal government, law enforcement personnel, and our own courts. It’s an example of our people once more exercising control over our lives and land.”

The ICSC’s new chapter has regenerated the enthusiasm of the court’s mission among its dedicated supporters.

“Returning justice and fair play to reservations has long been the dream of tribal elders. Today, this court allows tribal governments to enforce public safety and community standards while ensuring the right of every individual to their day in court,” said the court’s chief judge, Anthony Brandenburg, in a press release.

Brandenburg, who is of American Indian decent, said the ICSC will assist in clarifying “gray areas and the void of local tribal authority created by Congress with the passage of Public Law 280.” The 1953 law transferred to the state responsibility for criminal jurisdiction on reservations in some states.

“Public Law 280 has hampered the ability of both the tribes and state law enforcement to provide for the necessary adoption and enforcement of community standards of peace and safety. But we are all working together to change that,” he said.

Like other tribal courts, the ICSC settles disputes over tribal enrollment and Indian child welfare cases, and handles civil infraction violations such as trespass and assault. Housing disputes, environmental issues, land use and torts may also be brought to the court. It provides court administration, clerks, bailiffs and computerized case management.

The 10-tribe consortium includes the Pala Band of Mission Indians; the La Jolla and Rincon bands of Luiseño Indians; the Los Coyotes, Mesa Grande andPauma-Yuima bands of Mission Indians; Iipaay Nation of Santa Ysabel; Jamul Indian Village; Manzanita Band of the Kumeyaay Nation; and San Pasqual Band of Indians.