The Navajo Nation's Peacemaker Division: An Integrated, Community-Based Dispute Resolution Forum - Dispute Resolution Journal - Vol. 57, No. 2
The author is an associate at Mangum, Wall, Stoops & Warden in Arizona. He served as a judicial law clerk for the Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation during the summer of 1996 and in December 1999.
Originally from Dispute Resolution Journal
The article originally appeared in the American Indian Law Review (1999-2000).
The Navajo Nation is a sovereign Indian nation with reserved territories of over 25,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Their peacemaking traditions are grounded in the custom of hozhooji naat’aanii. In this article, Howard Brown outlines the principles of these peace-making traditions and shows how they are more effective than “Anglo-American” methods in resolving conflicts that arise among the Navajo people.
For hundreds of years, the Dine’, or Navajo people, have used a community-based dispute resolution ceremony to resolve conflicts.1 The ceremony integrates the wisdom, skills and perspectives of a variety of participants in order to reach noncoercive settlements that return the disputants and the community at large to a state of harmony. Because the contemporary Navajo Peacemaker Division relies on a customary dispute resolution method, experts argue that the Division is better considered a forum for “traditional” dispute resolution than “alternative” dispute resolution.2 Although the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch includes a well-developed court system based on the Anglo-American model, Navajo judges, legislators and citizens assert that traditional dispute resolution mechanisms more fully comport with Navajo customs and thus are more effective in resolving the conflicts that arise among Navajo people and within the Navajo Nation.3
In order to understand the Peacemaker Division and the role it plays in resolving disputes, some familiarity with the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch is necessary. The Navajo Nation is a sovereign Indian nation, with reserved territories of over 25,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.4 It has a population in excess of 220,000 people.5 The Nation’s government has three independent and separate branches, including the judicial branch.6 The judicial branch consists of a district court (with seven judicial districts located throughout the Navajo Nation, and including a family court division) and a supreme court (located in the Navajo Nation’s capital, Window Rock).7 The district courts assert original jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes involving persons who reside within the Navajo Nation or who have caused an action or Navajo Nation crime to occur within the Navajo Nation.8 Navajo common law and statutory law are the laws of preference, although judges may apply federal and state law if a matter is not addressed by Navajo law.9