U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

History Repeats Itself: Restorative Justice in Native American Communities

NCJ Number
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice Volume: 14 Issue: 1 Dated: (February 1998) Pages: 42-57
J F Meyer
Date Published
16 pages
This article develops a framework for understanding the transformation of Native American legal systems from primarily restoration-based to those that are more retribution oriented; a case study of the Navajo restorative justice system illustrates the framework, followed by a discussion of the future of restorative justice in Native American communities.
Restorative justice views crime as a violation of another person's rights. Instead of punishing criminals, the intent is to restore both victims and offenders through restitution in the form of money or service. Sometimes the victim and offender are voluntarily brought together in mediation sessions, where they design a restitution plan. Restorative justice seeks to restore victims, offenders, and their respective communities. The traditional Navajo justice system, along with other Native American justice systems, traditionally relied on re-establishing harmony more than on punishing law violators. Those who violated community norms faced a system based on clan relations and mediation. The dynamics of how these traditional restorative justice concepts and systems changed under European colonization can be viewed in five stages or time periods: aboriginal, tolerance, reduced tolerance, secrecy, and revitalization. The first stage, aboriginal, exists before the arrival of foreign visitors to the lands occupied by indigenous peoples. The second stage, tolerance, occurs during the process of colonization and does not imply actual support for the legal systems of the original inhabitants. The third stage, reduced tolerance, begins when a pivotal event challenges the dominant interests and triggers legal efforts designed to bring the Native justice system more under the influence of the dominant culture's own system. The fourth stage, secrecy, is a natural outgrowth of the third stage; when the dominant system begins to take away the indigenous people's ability to deal with crime and criminality in their communities, the indigenous system must go along with the change, resist the change, or secretly retain control over at least some situations. The final stage, revitalization, occurs when the dominant legal system begins to recognize the value of at least some of the traditional practices that were outlawed during earlier stages. Supporters of the current paradigm of restorative justice are opening up this final stage and seeking guidance from the traditions of Native American justice systems. 19 notes and 54 references