Honorable Melissa L. Pope Receives Award for Judicial Excellence

The 2023 Judith S. Kaye Award Recognizes professional and personal contributions to domestic and sexual violence advocacy

Written by Leslie McLove

Congratulations to NHBP Chief Judge for the Tribal Court, the Honorable Melissa L. Pope, who received the 2023 Judith S. Kaye Award for Judicial Excellence, which recognizes dedicated service by judicial officers who demonstrate knowledge of domestic and sexual violence and exemplary leadership developing courtroom responses to these issues.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to have been selected by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence to receive the Judith S. Kaye Judicial Excellence Award,”
said Pope.

Pope accepted the award from the Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence on Friday, August 4, during a ceremony at the American Bar Association (ABA) Annual Meeting in Denver, CO.

Pope has been consistently reappointed by the Tribal Council since February 2011, with the most recent four-year appointment in December 2022. She has also served in the elected position of Chief Justice of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Court of Appeals since 2009. In addition, Judge Pope has been teaching American Indian Law as a Member of the Adjunct Faculty at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law since 2007.

“Judge Pope’s unwavering dedication to combatting domestic and sexual violence exemplifies the true essence of justice,” stated NHBP Tribal Council Chairperson Jamie Stuck. “Her commitment to creating a safer world for the next seven generations is a beacon of hope and an inspiration to us all.”

“Receiving this award not only reminds me of the Seventh Generations to come that I must work to protect so that violence, hopefully, does not touch their lives, but fills my heart with gratitude for the Seventh Generations who came before me and who sacrificed so much – many their very lives – so that I may do this work today,” said Pope. “I honor all those who have worked, are currently working, or will work in the future to end the violence that permeates the lives of Indigenous People, Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities.”

Judge Pope has been actively engaged in the Anti-Violence Movement throughout her life. She brought this knowledge and experience with her as she developed the NHBP Tribal Court, established in 2006 through the NHBP Constitution.

Since her appointment as Chief Judge, she’s been involved with the efforts of NHBP to address the epidemic of violence against Indigenous People. As a delegate of the Intertribal Technical-Assistance Working Group on Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction (ITWG) and the NHBP Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Enactment Team, Judge Pope worked in collaboration with NHBP Staff to develop the infrastructure, programs, and services needed to adopt a Domestic Violence Code that included restored jurisdiction pursuant to VAWA.

“I honor the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi for prioritizing the safety of Indigenous People, not only within Tribal laws and programs but also through active participation in partnerships, such as the ITWG,” said Pope. “The commitment of Native Nations like NHBP and collaborative efforts of Tribes through ITWG makes it possible to achieve the ultimate goal of every person living free from violence, exploitation, intimidation, and fear.”

She has further utilized her knowledge, skills, and passion for building the NHBP court system in collaboration with the Tribal Council, Tribal Elders, and Tribal Citizens to not only create a Victim Services Department (VSD) but also integrate trauma-informed, victim-centered, traditional culturally honoring care into the very foundation of the NHBP Tribal Court. Under her leadership, she has expanded the VSD to now include two full-time Staff, one Staff in the Culture Department to plant, care for, and harvest Sacred Medicines to empower Survivors, consistent access to a Traditional Female Healer, and services that span the specific needs of each Survivor.

Pope is committed to the fundamental belief that equality for one community can only be achieved through the equality of all.

Judge Pope has the understanding that most defendants and respondents, especially when American Indian, have also been victimized by violence. She has developed opportunities for paths towards healing that extend across the types of cases before the NHBP Tribal Court and for providing pathways to avoid entering or returning to court systems. In recognizing the importance of providing opportunities for healing to defendants and respondents, she continues to prioritize the safety of Survivors, their families and the community, as well as the fundamental requirement of accountability.

She has also carefully developed the Probation Department to include two divisions: Supervision; and Intervention. Development of the Probation Department infrastructure has included becoming the first Tribal Court in Michigan to attain and maintain direct access to the Law Enforcement Information Network.

In addition to the development of the NHBP Tribal Court, Judge Pope is actively engaged within the mainstream legal profession to build partnerships that will help to end the epidemic of violence against Indigenous People, support all Survivors, and provide opportunities for defendants to be accountable for their actions and change. Most recently, Governor Whitmer reappointed Judge Pope to a second term on the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board. She also serves as Co-Chair of the Michigan Tribal State Federal Judicial Forum and President of the Michigan Indian Judicial Association. She also remains active in the State Bar of Michigan, serving as an appointed member of the American Indian Law and Access to Justice Policy Committees.

“The Judith S. Kaye Judicial Excellence Award and the breathtakingly beautiful blanket I was gifted with this Award will be my inspiration as I continue to promote the development of trauma-informed approaches within mainstream courts while creating systems in Tribal Courts that promote the safety and healing of victims and survivors through traditional culturally honoring services, provide culturally honoring care to support the wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults, develop methods to protect the safety of the community, and offer defendants trauma-informed opportunities for healing along with their requirements for accountability,” said Pope.


Related Articles

Share This