Tulalip Tribal Court
The Northwest Intertribal Court System (NICS) was established in 1979 in response to the provisions of the federal court decision known as the Boldt Decision allowing tribes with fisheries law enforcement and judicial systems to conduct treaty fisheries without state control.
In 1979, Tulalip and many other treaty fishing tribes lacked law and justice systems. The establishment of NICS, melding together the sovereignties of a dozen tribes, satisfied the Federal court requirement of a tribal court system to handle cases arising from activities of treaty fishing enforcement agencies.
Today, NICS administers the Judicial (including Pro Tems) functions of the Tulalip Tribes and also provides Appellate Court services. Both the Chief Judge Theresa M. Pouley, and Associate Judge Gary F. Bass are licensed attorneys and are both enrolled Tribal members of the Colville Tribes.
The Tulalip Tribal Court hears cases involving dissolution of marriage, child custody, child support, criminal, guardianship, employment appeals, gaming license appeals, domestic violence, personal protection orders, traffic and youth-in-need of care cases, as well as many other types of cases.
Tulalip Tribal Court Chief Judge Theresa M. Pouley
Theresa M. Pouley is the Associate Justice of the Colville Court of Appeals, Chief Judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court, and is the former Chief Judge of the Lummi Tribal Court. As a Judge of the Northwest Intertribal Court System, she serves as a trial judge and appellate court justice for several other Northwest tribes.
Judge Pouley was appointed to the Indian Law & Order Commission by President Obama in 2011. She formerly served as the President of the Northwest Tribal Court Judges Association and formerly served on the Board of Directors for the National American Indian Court Judges Association. She has worked and lectured with the Washington State Office of Administrator of Court’s in the area of Domestic Violence and Indian Law for the last several years. She was a presenter to the United States Supreme Court Justices O’Conner and Breyer on “Indigenous Justice Paradigms.” She provided Testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on “Challenges in Law Enforcement in Indian Country” in 2000, the “Oversight Hearings on Tribal Courts” in 2007, and “Tribal Law and Order Act,” one year later in 2011.
She frequently lectures at local, state and national conferences on Tribal Courts and Indian Law issues. She was selected by the Washington Supreme Court to sit on the “Historical Court of Justice” which reviewed and exonerated Chief Leschi in 2004. She was awarded the National Tribal Child Support’s Award for Outstanding Judge in 2005. Tulalip Tribal Court was awarded the Harvard Honoring Nations Award in 2006 for its focus on its therapeutic and indigenous approaches to criminal law.
Judge Pouley graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 1987, was admitted to the Michigan Bar and Washington Bar. She has been an attorney for over 20 years and in her practice had a variety of roles including private practice in Michigan and Washington and teaching Indian Law at local community colleges and the Northwest Indian College. She is a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes in eastern Washington.
Tulalip Tribal Court Associate Judge Ronald J. Whitener
Ron J. Whitener is Associate Judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court, a Justice on the Northwest Intertribal Court of Appeals, the Chehalis Tribal Court of Appeals and the Upper Skagit Tribal Court of Appeals. From 2009 to 2013, Judge Whitener served as the Chief Judge for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. Judge Whitener is a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, located in South Puget Sound, where he grew up and continues to participate in treaty fishing and as the Squaxin Island Commissioner of Business Affairs. Judge Whitener worked for Squaxin Island in their Natural Resources Department prior to going to law school. He graduated from the University of Washington Law School in 1994 and returned to Squaxin as a tribal attorney representing the tribal government in treaty rights defense, tribal governance, tribal court development, gaming and other enterprises. In 2000, he joined the Northwest Justice Project’s Native American Unit in Seattle where he represented Native American clients in federal, state and tribal courts. In 2002, he joined the University of Washington Law School as an Assistant Professor where, with funding and support of the Tulalip Tribes, he formed the Tribal Court Public Defense Clinic serving as public defender for several Western Washington tribes. Judge Whitener taught various courses in the fields of Indian law, mental health law and criminal law and was named Order of the Coif and Order of Barristers for his work in law and his experience as a courtroom advocate. He received funding from the MacArthur Foundation to implement culturally-informed projects in tribal juvenile justice in the areas of indigent juvenile defense and mental health issues. In 2009, he was named the Association of American Law School’s “Shanara Gilbert Emerging Clinician of the Year” and in 2011 he was named a “White House Champion of Change” by President Barack Obama for his advocacy for Native American clients. In May of 2014, Judge Whitener left the University of Washington to join the Tulalip Tribal Court.
Wendy A. Church, Tulalip Tribal Court Director
Wendy A. Church, is a Tulalip Tribal member, and earned her undergraduate degree in criminal justice at Columbia College of Missouri and a master's degree in public administration with an emphasis in tribal governance from Evergreen State College (Her Master's capstone research paper was on The Resurrection of the Tulalip Tribes' Law and Justice System and its Socio-Economic Impacts). She also has a Legal Secretary/Assistant certificate from L.H. Bates Vocational-Technical Institute.
Wendy is currently employed as the Tulalip Tribal Court Director, and was previously employed with the Office of the Tulalip Tribes' Reservation Attorney as office manager for seven years, and three years as a Legal Secretary. Other employment included working at the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Puget Sound Agency, editor of the Tulalip Tribal newspaper (The See-Yaht-Sub), and the Small Tribes of Western Washington.
She is an alternate board member of the Northwest Intertribal Court System, and has membership to the following organizations: National Association for Court Management; Tulalip Tribes' Law and Justice Committee; and, the Northwest Indian Bar Association. She recently completed and graduated from the National Judicial College's Court Management for Tribal Court Judges and Personnel.