THE NAVAJO RESPONSE TO CRIME
The Honorable Robert Yazzie Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation
Prepared for the Session
Concepts of Restorative and Reparative Justice
The American Judicature Society San Diego, California
November 2-3, 1997
INTRODUCTION: INDIANS, ANT HILLS AND STEREOTYPES
A few years ago, I did a presentation on traditional Navajo justice to judges from five western states. After the talk, two state judges went outside. One said to the other, "What did you think of Chief Justice Yazzie's description of Navajo common law?" The other judge laughed and replied, "He didn't mention staking people to ant hills!" Obviously the judges saw too many Western movies.
Unfortunately, there is a popular stereotype that Indian justice is rough justice; that Indians used punishments such as staking people to ant hills, running them through a gauntlet of people armed with clubs, or stringing an offender (usually shown in the movies as a White offender) up in the sun to bake. That is an unfortunate stereotype. One of the reasons I want to speak at this important conference is that people such as myself, as Indian leaders, need to do more to educate the general American public about Indian ways.
The main issue posed for this conference is, "What is the judicial role in sentencing?" This session is designed to address restorative and reparative principles. "Restorative" is defined to mean "the process for renewing damaged personal and community relationships." "Reparative" is defined to mean "the process of making things right for those affected by an offender's behavior." In other words, how can we help victims? We use only one word for both ideas: peacemaking. The Navajo term is Hozhooji Naat'aanii, and while it is difficult to completely translate its concepts into English, I will simply translate it as "talking things out in a good way."
Given that the overall topic of this conference is sentencing, I will focus on how we use peacemaking in sentencing or to handle a case. There is a copy of the Uniform Sentencing Policy the Navajo Nation Judicial Conference adopted in August 1994 in your conference materials. We believe that the policy is unique, because it incorporates restorative and reparative justice concepts. We know that it is unique because it incorporates traditional Navajo concepts on how to respond to crime.
I will describe the policy's concepts of "talking things out," the "traditional probation officer," and how we use Navajo peacemaking before charges are filed, at the time of plea, prior to sentencing, and after sentencing.