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

By Laura Mirsky

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 various tribes that incorporate the Peacemaking process into their tribal justice systems.  Peacemaking is a traditional method of Indigenous justice.  Our next articles are about Judge Flies-Away who is an enrolled member of the Hualapai Nation, located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona. In this particular segment, Judge Flies-Away shares his view on Healing to Wellness Courts.

Judge Flies-Away reports that when a person commits a criminal act, the people say that he acts like he has no relatives.  The purpose of law is to bring the person back into the fold, to heal him.  People do the worst things when they have no ties to people.  Tribal court systems are a tool to make people connected again.  Anglo court processes are cold and icy.  While he has issued sentences prescribed by the tribe’s criminal code, he thinks about healing the hurt or sickness that might be causing the criminal behavior in the first place.  Judge Flies-Away provides assistance to several tribes that are planning, implementing or evaluating Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts.  He was a member of the Tribal Advisory Committee, which, with the Tribal Law and Policy Institute and the U.S. Department of Justice, developed the publication, “Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts:  The Key Components.”  The goal of these courts, it reads, is to “provide an opportunity for each Native community to address the devastation of alcohol or other drug abuse by establishing more structure and higher levels of accountability for these cases and offenders through a system of comprehensive supervision, drug testing, treatment services, immediate sanctions and incentives, team-based case management and community support.”

Judge Flies-Away reports that he is no stranger to the spoils of alcoholism, having been raised in an alcoholic community and family.  As judge for his people, he has heard and handled many alcohol-related cases that resulted in great personal and public injury, and seen defendants return to court numerous times on the same alcohol-related charges.  It became clear to him that a 30-day sentence and a $100 fine does not effectively deter abusive drinking, especially for those who are not averse to spending time in jail, and, more important, that detention does not address the underlying problems and social difficulties that the defendants face in their daily lives.