Navigate this section

The Third Branch

Zaa-gi-bag-aa Wellness Court unveiled

A new state-tribal Wellness Court Initiative between the Vilas County Circuit Court and the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Court received its name - Zaa-gi-bag-aa - in a traditional Ojibwa naming ceremony held in Lac du Flambeau on May 22.  The court planned to start accepting participants in June.

 Participants in a ceremony to name a new state-tribal Wellness Court Initiative in Lac du Flambeau performed traditional drum songs.  The name, announced at the ceremony, is Zaa-gi-bag-aa – which roughly translates to ‘budding green leaf.’ Photo credit:  Eric A. Johnson, FYI Northwoods News

Participants in a ceremony to name a new state-tribal Wellness Court Initiative in Lac du Flambeau performed traditional drum songs. The name, announced at the ceremony, is Zaa-gi-bag-aa – which roughly translates to 'budding green leaf.' Photo credit: Eric A. Johnson, FYI Northwoods News

Tribal spiritual leader Leon Valliere was given a gift of tobacco from a member of the court team several weeks before the ceremony and asked to provide a name for the court.  After purifying the room by burning sage, Valliere continued the ceremony by speaking in Ojibwa for a number of minutes before revealing the name Zaa-gi-bag-aa, which roughly translates as 'budding green leaf.' Valliere compared those suffering from addiction to a bare winter's branch: to all appearances dead, but always retaining the capacity to regain vibrancy and life.

Vilas County Circuit Court Judge Neal A. "Chip" Nielsen III and Tribal Court Judges Garold Smith and Shannon Cobe signed a Joint Powers Agreement and exchanged state and tribal flags to display in each other's courts to symbolize the joint commitment that Zaa-gi-bag-aa represents. The ceremony was followed by a feast of venison, walleye, wild rice and fry bread.

Attending the ceremony were members of the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council and the Vilas County Board of Supervisors, Chief Judge Eugene Whitefish of the Forest County Pottowatomi Tribal Court, Chief Judge Marianne Higgins of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Tribal Court, former Vilas Circuit Judge and Lac Court Oreilles Tribal Judge James Mohr, and former Lac du Flambeau Tribal Court Judges Ernest St. Germaine and Alice Soulier, among other community leaders.

Zaa-gi-bag-aa Wellness Court team members have been planning the court for more than a year, attended formal team training in Arizona through a NDCI/BJA grant in March, and have been working to finalize documentation and details to implement the court.

"I'm very excited for this project," Nielsen said. "I'm confident in our team and in our concept, which is to hold participants accountable not only to the circuit court, but also to their own tribal court and to their community. Treatment will be coordinated through Lac du Flambeau's existing facilities and will have a strong cultural component as part of the wrap-around services of the court.  I know we are going to change lives in a very positive way."

Chief Judge Neal A. “Chip” Nielsen III, Vilas County Circuit Court, reads the Joint Powers Agreement to individuals gathered to celebrate the agreement’s adoption. Joining Nielsen to sign the document were Lac du Flambeau Tribal Court Chief Judge Garold Smith and Associate Judge Shannon Cobe.  Photo credit: The Lakeland Times

Chief Judge Neal A. "Chip" Nielsen III, Vilas County Circuit Court, reads the Joint Powers Agreement to individuals gathered to celebrate the agreement's adoption. Joining Nielsen to sign the document were Lac du Flambeau Tribal Court Chief Judge Garold Smith and Associate Judge Shannon Cobe. Photo credit: The Lakeland Times

Back to top

Back to The Third Branch current issue