When the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska opened its Youth Crisis Intervention Center 8 years ago, the community moved many of its youth-serving programs under the same roof—so that young members who enter the juvenile justice system receive trauma-informed care and services steeped in the traditions of the Ho-Chunk people, the Tribe’s ancestors.
The center functions as a one-stop shop for youth arrested by Tribal police. As youth are processed, the center screens them for mental health issues, suicidal ideation, substance use, and trauma. Staff also assess how connected the young person is to the Winnebago culture, then make recommendations to the court to ensure youth and family needs are met in culturally appropriate ways. Each client receives an individual service plan with referrals for interventions and wraparound services. This holistic approach is designed to meet the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of the Tribe’s youth, says Daryl LaPointe, director of both the center and the Tribe’s youth shelter.
OJJDP Administrator Visits Winnebago Tribe’s Youth Crisis Intervention Center
OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan toured the Winnebago Tribe’s Youth Crisis Intervention Center on June 15, 2023, to see the range of services provided—including the Tribal Youth and Juvenile Tribal Healing to Wellness Court programs, which OJJDP funds. The site visit was Administrator Ryan’s first to a Tribal grantee and an opportunity to observe firsthand how Tribal justice systems weave cultural practices into their services.
Since opening 8 years ago, the crisis intervention center has become a national model, demonstrating how Tribal communities and local governments can streamline interactions with youth and their families while offering trauma-focused interventions. The Administrator also learned about other Winnebago youth programs that are funded via the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation, which enables Tribes to submit a single application when applying for multiple Tribal grants from the Justice Department.
“This visit broadened my understanding of the ways Tribes use CTAS funds to build and enhance comprehensive justice systems that are responsive to their communities’ unique needs,” the Administrator says. “It was heartening to observe the central role Tribal culture plays across the Winnebago Tribe’s services.”
“Culture is our intervention.”
— Daryl LaPointe, director of the Winnebago Tribe’s Youth Crisis Intervention Center and youth shelter
OJJDP support has helped the Winnebago Tribe develop and sustain much of the center’s programming. The Tribe’s Youth Resiliency Intervention program—funded under Purpose Area 9 of the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS)—is a 10-week, classroom-based program. It emphasizes Ho-Chunk family values, teaching life skills, medicine making, and strategies for managing stress and anger. The curriculum uses Ho-Chunk traditions as interventions for healing. It also addresses trauma, grief, and the impact of alcohol use. Most participants are justice involved, but the program is open to all Tribal youth.
“Culture is really embedded into everything we provide,” Mr. LaPointe says. Tribal Elders help to ensure the center’s programming reflects Winnebago culture, serving as cultural advisors and supporting staff in program development and implementation. Elders recommend cultural activities and practices for clients’ individual service plans. They also offer youth guidance. In some cases, an Elder might give a youth an Indian name.
The strong cultural emphasis extends to services the center offers through the Tribe’s juvenile healing to wellness court, which was established for youth who commit alcohol and substance use offenses, to divert them from the Tribal court system. The juvenile healing to wellness court opened in 2021, funded by OJJDP under Purpose Area 8 of the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation. Tribal Elders contributed to the development of court policies and procedures. Elders also help identify culturally based interventions for new youth clients—such as growing and harvesting traditional Indian corn.
Corn is a vital food source for Native Americans, and the Ho-Chunk people consider it sacred—corn represents knowledge and has its own spirit, Mr. LaPointe explains. Youth involved in any of the center’s programs are encouraged to pitch in during the harvest. Afterward, they help prepare corn soup for a special ceremony. Preparing corn soup is a traditional way the Winnebago Tribe gives thanks to their creator for a bountiful harvest, he says. Kids are involved “from seed to soup.”
OJJDP’s Tribal Youth Resource Center provides free training and technical assistance and other resources to help Tribal communities plan, develop, and implement juvenile healing to wellness courts. Find additional resources on the Tribal Law and Policy Institute's Tribal Healing to Wellness Court website.