Tribal Court Clearinghouse          

Traditional Law

This page contains links to information and resources concerning tribal custom and tradition, traditional law, traditional methods of dispute resolution, and other related issues.

NAVAJO COURTS AND NAVAJO COMMON LAW: A Tradition of Tribal Self-Governance, by Raymond D. Austin (Navajo) - The Navajo Nation court system is the largest tribal legal system in the world. In his new book, Justice Raymond D. Austin considers the history and implications of how the Navajo Nation courts apply foundational Navajo doctrines to modern legal issues. In addition to detailed case studies, Justice Austin provides a broad view of tribal law, outlining how other indigenous peoples can draw on traditional precepts to control their own futures. Raymond D. Austin is the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program's Distinguished Jurist in Residence at the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. A member of the Arizona and Utah state bars and the Navajo Nation Bar Association, he served on the Navajo Nation Supreme Court from 1985 to 2001. Justice Austin is Diné from the Navajo Nation.

An Evaluation/Assessment of Navajo Peacemaking by Eric Kenneth Gross, finds that Peacemaking is a type of "restorative justice", since its objective is conflict resolution through the healing of relations between individuals in conflict. Like many other justice programs identified as "restorative" in objective and process, Navajo Peacemaking occurs outside of the halls of formal justice. It eschews the characteristic elements of adversarial justice and does not admit lawyers, judges or legal support services.

The Healing and Community Justice Policy of the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation - remarks of the Honorable Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation (Northern Arizona University; May 1, 1998).

The Navajo Response to Crime, by the Honorable Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation (Prepared for a session on Concepts of Restorative and Reparative Justice, the American Judicature Society; San Diego, California; November 2-3, 1997).

The Navajo Nation v. Ethelyn Begay, a/k/a Ethelyn Peterson. Navajo District court decision which upholds the authority of the court to dismiss a criminal complaint based upon a showing that the defendant had complied with a peacemaking agreement.

Indigenous Justice Systems and Tribal Justice (by Ada Pecos Melton, President, American Indian Development Associates)
Indigenous justice systems are based on a holistic philosophy. Law is a way of life, and justice is a part of the life process.

The Reemergence of Tribal Society and Traditional Justice Systems (by Carey Vicenti, former Chief Judge, Jicarilla Apache Tribal Court). In their efforts to establish tribal culture, Indian tribes are relying on the restoration of traditional forms of adjudication.

Indian Tradition and Custom in Adjudication under Rules of Evidence (by James Zion, Court Solicitor, Navajo Nation)
This article addresses how tribal courts receive evidence of Indian tradition and custom under rules of evidence, discusses the definition and nature of tradition and custom in court settings, and their recognition as a legitimate form of law.

The Dynamics of Navajo Peacemaking (by James Zion, Court Solicitor, Navajo Nation) Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 14 No. 1, February 1998 58-74 © Sage Publications, Inc.

A Sentencing Circle is a community-directed process, conducted in partnership with the criminal justice system, to develop consensus on an appropriate sentencing plan that addresses the concerns of all interested parties. Sentencing circles — sometimes called peacemaking circles — use traditional circle ritual and structure to involve the victim, victim supporters, the offender, offender supporters, judge and court personnel, prosecutor, defense counsel, police, and all interested community members. Within the circle, people can speak from the heart in a shared search for understanding of the event, and together identify the steps necessary to assist in healing all affected parties and prevent future crimes. Sentencing circles have been developed most extensively in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Yukon and have been used occasionally in several other communities. Their use spread to the United States in 1996 when a pilot project was initiated in Minnesota.

Family Group Conferencing involves the community of people most affected by the crime — the victim and the offender; and the family, friends, and key supporters of both — in deciding the resolution of a criminal incident. These affected parties are brought together by a trained facilitator to discuss how they and others have been harmed by the offense and how that harm might be repaired.

Real Justice is a not-for-profit program dedicated to fostering the spread of "conferencing," a process that can revolutionize the response to wrongdoing in criminal justice systems, schools, workplaces and communities. Conferencing is part of a worldwide "restorative justice" movement which seeks to shift the focus of criminal justice systems away from just dealing with offenders and toward addressing the needs of crime victims and communities (and it incorporates traditional Native American restorative justice concepts). Real Justice conferencing brings together offenders, victims and their respective families and friends to provide a victim-sensitive forum for people who have been affected by an incident to express their feelings and have a say in how to address the wrongdoing and repair the harm. This site includes many possible resources including Conference Presentations from Real Justice Conferences.

The Community Justice Exchange offers information and assistance to help bring together criminal justice agencies and ordinary citizens to make communities safer.

The Center for Court Innovation is a unique public-private partnership that promotes new thinking about how courts can solve difficult problems like addiction, quality-of-life crime, domestic violence, and child neglect. The winner of an Innovations in American Government Award from the Ford Foundation and Harvard University, the Center combines action and reflection to spark problem-solving innovation both locally and nationally.

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