Restorative Justice Practices of Native American, First Nation and Other Indigenous People of North America: Part One

The following articles will relate to Peacemaking and the Justice system.  I have edited some of the material to make it cohesive and easy to read.  Various tribes have included Peacemaking in their justice systems and provide a wealth of knowledge about the Peacemaking process.  We will examine the Navajo Peacemaking process.  It is a traditional method of Indigenous justice.  We will continue with Chief Judge Robert Yazzie of the Navajo Nation and look at some of the cases that were handled with Peacemaking.

Robert Yazzie’s colleague and friend James Zion has been involved with Indian law since 1975 and with the native court system for 15 years.  Formerly solicitor to the courts of the Navajo Nation, he has published many articles on traditional Indian law, substantive aspects of traditional Navajo law and the international human rights of indigenous peoples.  He is currently domestic abuse commissioner at the Crownpoint Family Court (an isolated community in northwest New Mexico) and adjunct professor in the department of criminal justice at Northern Arizona University.  He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Saint Thomas, and a Juris Doctor degree from the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America.

A non-Indian, self-described “Montana populist,” he has been married to a Navajo woman and is fascinated with Indian customs, which, he said, “make a lot of sense for non-Indians.”  Classic stereotypes portray Indians as “primitive and not bright,” said Zion.  In reality, however, their “tremendously sophisticated thinking opens the door to looking at our own culture.”

Zion discussed the differences between Anglo (European or non-Native) and Indian justice.  “We are so used to presenting problems to powerful decision makers (judges) for them to resolve, that we cannot seem to understand that there are other approaches,” he wrote.  “As Professor Leroy Little Bear of the Blood Nation in Alberta once put it, ‘the law shamans of white people must be very wise, because they can find the truth based on the lies of lawyers.’”  “Anglo law is all about rules and principles,” said Zion, whereas in Indian justice the process is very important.  Disputes are resolved not by rules but by the idea of relationships.

“Western-style adjudication is a lot slower and less efficient than the traditional method.  Adjudication not only permits denial; it also encourages lies.”  --James Zion

By Laura Mirsky