Historical Ties to Legal System Help Crow Tribal Court Judges
For its 2014-18 term, the Crow Tribal Court in Crow Agency, Montana, has a roster of almost entirely new faces. Associate Judge Sheila Not Afraid is the only returning judge; she is joined by new Chief Justice Leroy Not Afraid and Associate Judge Kari Covers Up.
In this past fall’s election, held on November 2, 2013, Leroy Not Afraid defeated fellow candidate Jackie YellowTail, 1,831 votes to 944, and took the seat held by the Honorable Julie Yarlott, who served from 2009 to 2013. In the associate judges’ race, Kari Covers Up and Sheila Not Afraid received 1,786 and 1,766 votes, respectively, while then-Associate Judge Jonni Dreamer-Big Hair received 1,162. Like Yarlott, Dreamer-Big Hair served from 2009 to 2013.
Energy is high among the new trio. All three say that has a lot to do with their respective backgrounds, a deep sense of history and a strong commitment to the Crow, or Apsaalooke, Nation.
Life comes full circle
Born in Crow Agency and raised in the Valley of the Chiefs, also known as the Lodge Grass district, Chief Justice Leroy Not Afraid graduated in 1990 from St. Labre Catholic Indian High School and attended Montana State University until 1992. He said he quickly learned that college was not for him.
“It didn’t speak loudly to me,” he said. “So I went to work for tribal government, which is now called the executive branch under the 2001 Constitution. I also started a consulting business, which I still have now; I travel the United States to teach youth about leadership, and to train boards and councils on how to be better and more effective.”
Not Afraid said he’s taking roughly a yearlong sabbatical from the consulting business to get his feet on the ground at the Crow Tribal Court, where he said he’s committed to making the judicial branch function even more effectively in the Crow Nation’s three-branch tribal government.
“One of my passions is to promote the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the Crow Nation,” he explained. “That’s why I’m here.”
The road to becoming chief judge began when Not Afraid was a small boy, being raised by guardians who would later become his adoptive parents. At the age of 10, he was struck by a motorcycle in a Lodge Grass school parking lot, state-owned property.
“My adoptive mother, who was my guardian then, sued the school district on my behalf,” Not Afraid remembered. “That case eventually became National Farmers Union Insurance Company vs. the Crow Tribe.”
The case started in Montana U.S. District Court, was reviewed by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and eventually traveled all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 9-0 decision on June 3, 1985, the Court unanimously upheld tribal courts’ jurisdiction in civil matters involving non-Indians. Not Afraid said it was a powerful acknowledgment of Indian nations’ history and sovereignty.
“I was the original plaintiff in that case,” he commented. “It really inspired me to pursue public service.”
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