A mere probation violation, according to a San Carlos Apache woman, garnered her 10-year-old grandson living on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana a $500,000 bond. She took to social media to raise awareness of what she views as an outrageous punishment against the boy, Isaiah Shane Nasewytewa, for getting into an altercation at St. Ignatius Elementary School, where he is enrolled. Now he awaits his next court date at a juvenile residential mental health facility.
Hon. Deborah Kim Christopher, a district court judge for Montana’s 20th Judicial District, set the bond at that staggering amount at a hearing on May 2, 2013. The incident violated the terms of probation for a felony burglary committed with other youths last year, according to Dorinda Buck, his grandmother and guardian since mid-January. His family was unable to raise that kind of money for the bond, so Isaiah was sent to the Reintegrating Youthful Offenders Correctional Facility in Galen, Montana.
The evening of the court hearing, Buck, 57, and one of her six daughters, Valerie Mardiz-Lupian (Salish & Kootenai), wrote a letter titled “Through the Eyes of a Grandmother” to explain Isaiah’s plight, and they posted it on Facebook, Twitter and emailed it to at least 50 people. The letter rapidly garnered support from family, friends and total strangers from across the country. It also caught the attention of local and national news outlets.
Christopher removed the bond following a May 8 hearing, with the condition that Isaiah be admitted to Acadia Montana, a residential mental health treatment facility for youth in Butte, Montana, pending the completion of a court-ordered neuropsychological evaluation. Buck believes the bond removal was a result of mounting media coverage, but she is disappointed that the judge would not allow Isaiah to go home after the hearing.
Still reeling from the $500,000 bond, Buck said, “What was she [Christopher] thinking? That has been my question. ‘Why are you doing this?’”
The Billings Gazette, a local paper that has been covering this story, reported on May 8 that the judge set the bond that high to make sure Isaiah completes the evaluation, noting that he missed three scheduled appointments for the evaluation in the past 14 months. Those appointments were with Sunburst Mental Health in St. Ignatius, according to Mardiz-Lupian, the family’s designated spokesperson. She pointed out that only one appointment was missed while Isaiah was in the care of his grandmother, and it was because Sunburst and Lake County Juvenile Probation did not know Buck was his guardian (she never received a letter for the appointment).
Isaiah, whose parents separated last year, has lived with Mardiz-Lupian, a mother of three, in Olympia, Washington, on and off since the day he was born. She knows her nephew very well, she stressed. “He is fun-loving, caring. He has a great sense of humor.”
Mardiz-Lupian blames some of the issues that Isaiah is going through on the public school that he has been attending in Montana. When he lived with her in Olympia, he went to Wa He Lut Indian School, where she said he had a perfect attendance record and had good marks. “I feel that Native American kids get treated unfairly at that school,” she said. “Every time Isaiah would do something, they would call the cops on him.”
Terry Cross (Seneca), director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, could not comment too much on this case, because he was not too familiar with it when ICTMN contacted him, but he did say it was unusual. “You can’t second guess what a judge is trying to do in a situation like this. It really seems like the agencies involved really need to collaborate and cooperate with one another.”
Buck said that the reading of Isaiah’s evaluation findings is scheduled for May 22 and that he will remain at Acadia Montana until at least May 23.
Buck, a grandmother of 27, just wants Isaiah to come home. “We miss him. He is a little boy with a big smile. He is funny. He is just loveable.”