Navajo Peacemaking

CAV Paper – Navajo Peacemaking Throughout Indian Country tribes have their own courts to address legal matters. However, the Navajo Nation has a court system that stands apart from other tribes. Howard L. Brown Esq. wrote, “The Navajo Nation’s Peacemaker Division: An Integrated Community-Based Dispute Resolution Forum” which was published in the American Indian Law Review 1999-2000 issue and was reprinted in the May/July 2002 issue of Dispute Resolution Journal. As a former judicial law clerk for the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation, Brown gained firsthand experience with the Peacemaker Division within the Navajo Nation’s Judicial Branch.
He details the history, development and ceremonies associated with this resolution forum. Two other authors also covered the same topic, agreeing with Brown’s opinion although from different perspectives. This paper will compare Brown’s viewpoint to Jon’a F. Meyers article, “It is a Gift From the Creator to Keep Us in Harmony: Original (vs. Alternative) Dispute Resolution on the Navajo Nation” published in the International Journal of Public Administration and Jeanmarie Pinto’s article “Peacemaking as Ceremony: the Mediation Model of the Navajo Nation. published in The International Journal of Conflict Management. Brown’s article opens with statistical information about the Navajo Nation’s reservation size and population, its status as a sovereign nation, and system of government.
The article provides a brief history and evolution of the Navajo Nation’s judicial system, clearly explaining the difference between Navajo common law and contrasts it with the more adversarial federal or state law. The Navajo Nation Tribal Council established the Navajo courts, which make up one of the three branches of tribal government.In 1982, after searching for more traditional ways to solve disputes the Peacemaker Court began. It is know referred to as the Peacemaker Division within the judicial branch of government and uses Navajo Common law. [1] In “Peacemaking as Ceremony: The Mediation Model of the Navajo Nation,” Pinto agrees with Brown’s explanation of the Navajo court and government system, but explains the difference between Original Dispute Resolution (ODR) and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). The Navajo legal term for peacemaking s Original Dispute Resolution, because it is the traditional Navajo method for solving disputes while ADR is a term for unique mediation methods within the federal, state, and local court systems. [2] Jon’a Meyer ‘s description of the history of Navajo peacemaking also agrees with the other two authors version of the history of the Navajo Nation’s judicial system, but the article “It is a Gift From the Creator to Keep Us in Harmony: Original (vs.

Alternative) Dispute Resolution on the Navajo Nation” includes a history King Henry I’s use of compensation for crimes which is a component of the Navajo peacemaking process. 3] According to Brown, Navajo common law is also known as traditional law which “reflects the customs, usages and traditions of the Navajo People, formed by Navajo values in action,” reinforcing the Nation’s sovereignty, preserving Navajo tradition, and preventing the state from interfering in Navajo judicial matters. [4] The article relates why the use of Navajo common law is important as it employs traditional cultural values to resolve disputes which is something familiar to the disputants, making them more inclined to go through the legal process to settle disputes.Pinto agrees with Brown, but points out that there are some younger Navajos who are not supportive of returning to the old ways of resolving disputes and prefer to use the more mainstream Navajo Court System. [5] Meyer’s article mentions the use of Navajo common law in the Navajo as did Brown and Pinto, but states “peacemaking never fully ceased to occur in the remote regions of the reservation. ”[6] Unlike Pinto, Meyer did not mention the lack of support for Navajo peacekeeping within the younger generation.Peacemaking or hozhooji naat’aanii comes from Navajo common law and tradition and includes “a justice ceremony in which disputants and community members gather to talk things out with the assistance of a respected community leader or naat’aannii (peacemaker) to reach a consensual settlement.
”[7] Brown describes how a peacemaker is chosen, how tradition is followed by opening the session with a prayer to create a harmonious atmosphere, and the protocol that if followed during the mediation leading to the final consensual solution.While talking things out family and community members will explain to the offender how they have violated tradition and failed to fulfill the expectation of their role as a family or community member and how it has impacted them. Brown’s description of the peacemaking process is similar to Pinto’s which is illustrated via a table comparing three model’s of dispute resolution. The table clearly shows the importance of Navajo tradition in peacemaking and how it is reflected in each step of the process via a healing ceremony and focusing on restoring harmony to the community. 8] Pinto also includes three pages detailing the seven steps and components of the peacemaking process. The outline format makes the process easy to understand and reinforces many points brought up by the other two authors. Meyer describes the peacemaking process in terms similar to Brown and Pintos, but compares the Navajo process to other tribal resolution methods.
Using the Ojibwe example of cleansing the spirits of offenders and victims of a crime, Meyer points out that the Navajo peacemaking process works to eliminate “the causes of discord rather than focus on the dispute itself. [9] After the period of discussion the peacemaker will often use a story to illustrate the wrongdoing and to find a consensual solution that is in accordance with traditional Navajo beliefs. Brown relates how the story of the Horned Toad and Lightning resolved a dispute over land ownership. [10] Lightning felt that he owned all of the land and was upset when Horned Toad entered it and ordered him to leave. When Horned Toad refused to leave, Lightning threw a lightning bolt which landed very close to Horned Toad who left.The next day Horned Toad returned wearing armor and when Lightning hit him with a lightning bolt it was deflected by the armor. Horned Toad explained that the Creator was the same one that gave them the land and the armor and questioned why they were fighting over something that had been given to them.
This story reminds disputants of the importance of talking things out and following traditional ways. While Pinto agrees with Brown’s account of how stories are used as a part of the peacemaking process, the article does not mention any specific stories.However, Pinto states, “through the telling of Sacred Navajo Narratives, and in relating wisdom gained through personal experience, the peacemakers teaches basic Navajo principles and guides the participants from a negative frame of mind to one that is positive enough to promote problem solving. ”[11] Meyer also mentions the use of stories, but states that they are used to “illustrate issues in the dispute. ”[12] All three authors agree that during the peacemaking solutions are achieved through discussion of the dispute and that the resolution reached is one that satisfies all parties.Meyer’s article is the only one that mentions the term “restorative justice” and it is in reference to the 1881 Brule Sioux Crow Dog case, in which the offender compensated the victim’s family. Crow Dog murdered Chief Spotted Tail and was ordered by the tribe to “make reparations to the victim’s family, a sanction that was commonly imposed in Sioux homicides.
[13] Pinto’s outline of the peacemaking process includes the nalyeeh, “a process resulting in restitution, restoration, and making a person whole for an injury. [14] The person who caused the injury or is the responsible party for the dispute is required to make sure that restitution is given to the victim or victim’s family, which will help make the community whole again. Brown does not mention the term “restorative justice,” but does explain that the solution must be something agreed upon and satisfactory for all parties involved in the dispute. The agreement by consensus implies that community harmony is restored.The Navajo Nation’s Peacemaking Division has been successful and other tribes in the United States and Canada have similar successes. Meyer’s article uses an example taken from Hollow Water, Manitoba where tribal leaders allowed sexual abusers to plead guilty and complete a 13 step two year program that helped them address the issues they struggle with due to their having been victimized during their childhood. After completion of the program “the former abuser foes through a cleansing ceremony to mark a new beginning for all involved.
During the ceremony, the former abuser washed his victim’s feet, symbolically allowing her to re-enter womanhood, then throws a mask he has worn throughout the ceremony into the fire, symbolically destroying his identity as an abuser. ”[15] The tribe has been incredibly successful with less than 5% of the abusers committing a sexual offense again, compared to much higher recidivism rates in mainstream courts. Pinto’s article agrees with Meyer that the Navajo peacekeeping system is successful and even goes as far to suggest it serving as a model or Western mediation “to improve the mediation methods currently being used. ”[16] Brown’s article suggest that the Navajo Peacemaking system is successful and that success is reflected in the increased number of cases in the Peacekeeping Division. [17] Three authors wrote about Navajo peacekeeping from different perspectives, bringing up various points, but all agreed that it is successful. With the success of the Navajo Peacemaking Division of the Navajo Nation court system, it is clear that this long-standing tradition will continue to bring back restore harmony to communities torn apart by disputes.Works Cited Brown, Howard L.
“Nation’s Peacemaker Division: An Integrated, Community-Based Dispute Resolution Forum,” Dispute Resolution Journal 57 (May 2002) : 42- 48. Meyer, Jon’a. “It is a Gift From the Creator to Keep Us in Harmony: Original (vs. Alternative) Dispute Resolution on the Navajo Nation” International Journal of Public Administration 25 (2002) : 1379 – 1401. Pinto, Jeanmarie. “Peacemaking as Ceremony: The Mediation Model of the Navajo Nation,” The International Journal of Conflict Management 11 (2000) : 267-286. ———————– 1] Howard L.
Brown, “Nation’s Peacemaker Division: An Integrated, Community-Based Dispute Resolution Forum,” Dispute Resolution Journal 57 (May 2002), 44. [2] Jeanmarie Pinto, “Peacemaking as Ceremony: The Mediation Model of the Navajo Nation,” The International Journal of Conflict Management 11 (2000), 269. [3] Meyer, Jon’a “It is a Gift From the Creator to Keep Us in Harmony: Original (vs. Alternative) Dispute Resolution on the Navajo Nation” International Journal of Public Administration 25 (2002) : 1380. [4] Brown, Nation’s Peacemaker Division, 45. 5] Pinto, Peacemaking as Ceremony, 270. [6] Meyer, It is a Gift From the Creator, 1387.
[7] Brown, Nation’s Peacemaker Division, 45. [8] Pinto, Peacemaking as Ceremony, 275. [9] Meyer, It is a Gift From the Creator, 1388. [10] Brown, Nation’s Peacemaker Division, 47. [11] Pinto, Peacemaking as Ceremony, 278. [12] Meyer, It is a Gift From the Creator, 1388. [13] Ibid, 1384.
[14] Pinto, Peacemaking as Ceremony, 282. [15] Meyer, It is a Gift From the Creator, 1383. [16] Pinto, Peacemaking as Ceremony, 283. [17] Brown, Nation’s Peacemaker Division, 47.

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