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Pine County, Mille Lacs Band to hire cultural coach to help at-risk youth

Pine County and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe are teaming up to hire a new cultural community coach to work with Native American youth.

The new contract position, one of the few of its kind in Minnesota, starts Jan. 1 and is funded with grants of $25,000 each from the tribe and the county.

The coach, likely to be a tribal member, will work with juveniles who are in probation or restorative justice programs. The goal is to bridge gaps in the system by boosting support for kids through a culturally sensitive program.

"We'd like to reinvest in children differently," Pine County probation director Terry Fawcett said. "If we just spend a little more time with the kid, they will have a better chance to be successful."

Juveniles on probation will get a probation officer, but the cultural community coach also will make sure kids and their families make it to court hearings and get connected to cultural activities, school activities and other positive outlets.

"It's another layer (of support)," said Katie Draper, director of government affairs for the Mille Lacs Band. She said the partnership points to a positive relationship between Pine County and the band, which has reservation land in both Mille Lacs and Pine counties: "They want to work together to help the future of our youth."

It's also part of broader juvenile justice reforms in Pine County that leaders hope will reduce truancy and recidivism rates, which are disproportionately high among Native American youth. Last year, 21 percent of the 71 juveniles on probation were Native American, although Native Americans make up only 3 percent of the county's population.

By doing more to reduce truancy rates, Fawcett said he hopes kids will be more likely to graduate from high school and less likely to end up in the corrections system and in foster care or an out-of-home placement.

"Truancy — that's the entry point to the system," he said. "It's a symptom of something larger going on."

As of now, the new position is only funded for 2018, but Fawcett said the county hopes to continue it beyond then. He got the idea in his previous job in northern Minnesota, where a Native American cultural community coach for youth on probation in Duluth made a difference, he said.

"There's sometimes mistrust in government officials with people of color, and for good reason," Fawcett said, adding that the coach could help address historical trauma. "We can try to break down those barriers."