Navajo Peacemaking

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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 is 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...
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