OVC ArchiveOVC
This file is provided for reference purposes only. It was current when produced, but is no longer maintained and may now be outdated. Please select www.ovc.gov to access current information.
B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court: Instructor's Guide
For Native American Children Required to Testify in Court

Prepared by the
United States Attorney's Office
District of Arizona

With support from:
Office for Victims of Crime
Office of Justice Programs
U.S. Department of Justice


Annually, hundreds of native American children who are victims and witnesses to crimes in Indian Country must testify in Federal and Tribal courts across the country. Experience has shown that if we prepare children who testify in court proceedings, so that they know what to expect, the stress often associated with the testimony is minimized. "B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court," is a new resource designed to prepare native American child victims and witnesses to testify in criminal courts. The video attempts to answer questions frequently asked about the courtroom, courtroom procedures, and the people who participate in court proceedings. By learning what to expect in a trial setting, children will become more confident and many of their fears about testifying will be alleviated.

"B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court," was developed with the assistance and guidance of a committee of experts who represent several disciplines. They include native American advocacy organizations, tribal representatives, victim/witness advocates, Tribal and Federal prosecutors, psychologists, social workers, law enforcement officers and educators.

The committee recognized that there are many complex legal, psychological, and social issues involved when a child is victimized or must appear in court as a witness. However, the focus and intent of this video is specifically to provide information to native American child witnesses about Tribal and Federal court in order to minimize the potential trauma involved in giving testimony. The video is non-threatening and intended to be utilized with children from tribes across the country. Since it is not unusual for a case in Indian country to be prosecuted in both Federal and Tribal court, general information about both court systems is provided. It is important to remember that this video should be used in a case only after it has been determined that the child witness will testify in a court proceeding, and during the period of time in which the child and his or her parents or guardian are preparing for such participation.

As the video is intended as a source of guidance for the adults who supervise its use, please take the time to review this supplemental material along with the video. Showing the video without the supervision of a knowledgeable adult is not recommended, as children may have important questions or may not understand all of the material.

Very few materials specifically created for native American children now exist. Our hope and intent is that this video and the enclosed material will assist you in preparing native American children to testify in criminal court proceedings. We believe that this resource will help generate further discussion of issues and practices among professionals who work with child victims and witnesses.


Brenda G. Meister
Acting Director
Office for Victims of Crime

Linda A. Akers
United States Attorney
District of Arizona


The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona and the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice gratefully acknowledge the following people for their assistance in providing us with their knowledge and expertise which was critical in developing this video, "B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court."

Jan Emmerich, Director
LECC/Victim Witness Programs
U.S. Attorney's Office/District of Arizona
Production Committee Chairperson

Jan Twist
Victim Witness Coordinator
U.S. Attorney's Office/District of Arizona
Production Co-Chairperson

Committee Members

Greg Barnargas
BIA Law Enforcement
Gila River Agency

Ken Berry
LECC/Victim Witness Coordinator
U.S. Attorney's Officer
District of New Mexico

Betty Castillo
Child Protective Services Coordinator
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

Barbara Chester
Consulting Psychologist
The Hopi Foundation

Arnold Farley
Child Psychologist
Phoenix Indian Medical Center

Timothy Joe
Chief Prosecutor
The Navajo Nation

Joseph Myers
Executive Director
National Indian Justice Center

Mary Murguia
Assistant U.S. Attorney
District of Arizona

Beth Overholt
Assistant U.S. Attorney
District of Arizona

Polly Sharp
Inter Tribal Council of Arizona

Elizabeth Farr
Assistant U.S. Attorney
District of Arizona

Laura Federline
Program Manager
Office for Victims of Crime

Gloria Fohrenkam
Indian Child Welfare Specialist
Arizona Department of Economic Security

Tom Hannis
Assistant U.S. Attorney
District of Arizona

Doris Honhongva
Victim Witness Advocate
U.S. Attorney's Office/District of Arizona

Gary Husk
Chief Counsel/Drug Enforcement Section
Arizona Attorney General's Office

Nancy Stoner-Lampy
LECC/Victim Witness Coordinator
U.S. Attorney's Office
District of South Dakota

Susie Wauneka
Department of Social Services
Western Navajo Agency

Eidell Wasserman
White Mountain Apache Tribe

Mary Williams
Victim Witness Advocate
U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Arizona

Harriet Zeitzer
Assistant U.S. Attorney
District of Arizona

We also appreciate the time, personnel, and facilities donated by the following:

Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community

United States District Court, Phoenix, Arizona

United States Marshal's Service, Phoenix, Arizona


"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.


"Let us teach our children the good things of life ... so that they may be grateful for who they are." —Tribal Elder

This video and instruction booklet was developed as a resource to prepare native American children who must testify in Federal or Tribal court. By helping children and their families to know what to expect of their court experience, children will be more confident and less anxious about testifying. Even with these resources, we recognize that nothing is more effective in working with children and families than informed, compassionate, responsive professionals who can communicate, provide information and assistance, and who take advantage of every opportunity to make the criminal justice system responsive to victims of crime.

Please address orders and inquiries to:

The United States Attorney's Office
Victim Witness Program
(in your district)

Suggested Readings

The following are samples of resources available that can give you more information concerning victim services and childhood trauma:

Mowbray, Carol T. (1988), Post-traumatic therapy for children who are victims of violence. In Frank M. Ochberg (Ed.), Post-traumatic Therapy and Victims of Violence. New York, Brunner/Mazel Publishers.

King County Rape Relief (1984). Talking to children/Talking to parents about sexual assault. Seattle, Washington.

National Indian Law Library (1985). Child sexual abuse in Native American communities. Boulder, Colorado.

S.O.S. Me in Court. Coloring book produced by Sexual Offense Services, St. Paul, Minnesota. Single copies are available upon request in English or Spanish. Information about ordering mass quantities is also available. (612) 298-5898.

Young, Marlene A. (1988). Support services for victims. In Frank M. Ochberg (Ed.). Post-traumatic Therapy and Victims of Violence. New York. Brunner/Mazel Publishers.


B.J. Learns About Federal and Tribal Court: Instructor's Guide
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.