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.

It was discovered that the old ways of justice for the Navajo tribe were still being practiced “in the corners.”  No one recognized that what they were doing was “alternative dispute resolution.”  Some of the tribal people did what they had always done.  A woman called and asked “what is peacemaking?”  After it was explained to her, she remarked, “oh that, we understand.”  An example was given of a case on which was heard in Crownpoint.  A large family was battling over grazing permits.  Many Navajos showed up for the hearing from as far away as California, wanting a piece of the permits.  The Navajo judge, Irene Toledo, shamed the group, asking, “What would your grandfathers think?”  She told them to consider who really needed the permits and who would use them the best.  She said she would take the case to trial, but that meanwhile everyone had to go to peacemaking court.  Outside the courtroom after the hearing, people were already beginning to make peace.  This illustrates the concept that Indians don’t resolve matters by rules, but by examining relationships.  Versions of Navajo peacemaking have been used in domestic abuse cases and seems to work well.  Respondents usually admit what they have done.  An Apology is powerful.  Talking about possible relief rather than just imposing orders is a very powerful restorative justice tool, and orders that explain why the court found domestic abuse and why certain relief is being given is also a powerful tool.  Western style adjudication is a lot slower and less efficient than the traditional method.  Lawyers slow things down and adjudication not only permits denial; it also encourages lies.