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"B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court," was designed to provide information to native American child witnesses and guidance material for the adults who supervise its use with children. The specific objectives are:

  1. To minimize the potential trauma for native American children who are required to testify in criminal court proceedings;
  2. To familiarize native American child witnesses with the structure and function of Tribal and Federal court; and
  3. To provide a tool for adults working with these children that will facilitate discussion of questions and concerns about testifying in court.

Before the Program

You can do several things both before and after showing "B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court" that will promote active learning. These include:

  • Asking the child questions that will be answered in the video
  • Telling the child what they will see in the video
  • Giving the child a task to do (such as drawing) that relates to the video
  • Asking the child what s/he has seen in the video
  • Allowing the child to ask questions about the video

Before viewing the video you can:

—Ask the child: What is court? Do you know anyone who has ever been to court? Have you ever seen the Tribal court building? Do you know what it means to tell the truth?

—Explain to the child that s/he will be watching a video about B.J. who was asked to go to court in order to help by telling what he knew or what he saw happen. B.J. is worried about going to court because he does not know what court is all about or what to do when he gets there. Explain that B.J. and his friends, Joe and Audrey, learn about two different kinds of court, Tribal and Federal court, and the people who work there. Specify what kind of court the child will be going to.

—Obtain a copy of such aids as the coloring book Me in Court (see Suggested Readings). Point out the children in the book and ask the child to color a picture of them.

—View the video with the child.

Program Summary

Three young native American children, B.J., Joe, and Audrey are playing basketball on their reservation. B.J. is distracted and worried because he has to go to court in a week in order to testify. The children go to Audrey's grandmother for help. Grandmother starts to explain but decides that it would be better to show the children what Tribal and Federal court are like. First, B.J. and his friends find themselves in Tribal court, where the participants define their roles. The judge then takes them to her chambers where they meet Donna, a victim-witness advocate, and Walter, a Federal court judge. Walter takes the children to Federal court where they meet additional court members who answer their questions about what it means to testify and be a witness. B.J. is overwhelmed with all of this new information, but Donna assures him that she will be there to help. The video ends with each child answering a series of questions that are of concern to native American children who go to court.

After the program

After viewing the video you can:

—Ask the child: Why did B.J. have to go to court? Did he do anything wrong? What does it mean to testify in court? What does it mean to be a witness?

—Ask the child what questions s/he has about court. If the child seems withdrawn and unwilling to answer questions, you can have him/her find the picture of the witness in the coloring book and work with the child to talk about what s/he does. If you cannot obtain a coloring book, make some simple pictures with the child.

—Explain again the role of the two courts, Tribal and Federal, and again specify the court to which the child will go. Discuss where you fit in the process.

—Have the child take out a coloring book and color various members of the court. If a coloring book is not available, the child can draw these figures on unlined paper. Go over again what the judge, court clerk, jury, prosecutor, and defense attorney do (the judge is like a referee in a basketball game, the court clerk asks you to tell the truth, the prosecutor asks questions first to show the judge what happened, the defense attorney helps the person being blamed to tell his/her story).

—Tell the child that children go to court to testify about many things. Ask the child if s/he can give you an example. Do not go into the details of the child's own experience.

—Ask the child where s/he can go to for help if s/he has any questions.

—Thank the child for helping out by telling what s/he knows or saw happen.


  • Visit a courtroom if at all possible. Accompany the child to an empty courtroom. Specify whether it is a Tribal or Federal court. Walk the child through the room pointing out the personnel positions while referring to the characters in the tape. Explain any differences from the video, such as the court reporter's method of transcribing. Tell the child whether or not a jury will be present or if the judge alone will decide the case. Have the child sit in the witness chair like B.J. Re-emphasize that s/he will be asked to tell the truth. Ask the child two or three simple questions while s/he is in the chair, such as what grade s/he is in or how old s/he is. It is also important to remind the child that the defendant will most likely be in the courtroom, but that someone (the bailiff or U.S. Marshal) will be there to protect him/her. Also, let him/her know that other people may be allowed in the courtroom. The child should be informed in advance of circumstances that may cause discomfort.
  • Debrief with the child after they testify. If the court returns a not guilty" verdict, the child may feel that s/he has failed, or that people did not believe him/her. The child may also feel confused if the defendant is found "guilty," believing s/he is responsible for the punishment that the defendant will receive. Support the fact that they did well because they told what they knew or saw happen. Remember that children, especially native American children, are often victimized because they are vulnerable; adults do not expect them to tell or be believed. By telling what they saw or what happened to them, native American children will be more able to protect themselves.
  • Refer to treatment or community intervention when appropriate. Being the victim of or witness to a crime can be traumatic and have lingering effects. Also, if the crime was committed by another community resident, the child and their family may face a certain amount of community reaction. Keep a list of appropriate referrals for the child and his/her family in order to minimize these potential after effects.

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B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court: Instructor's Guide
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