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Indigenous Justice Systems and Tribal Society

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 79 Issue: 3 Dated: (November-December 1995) Pages: 126- 133
A P Melton
Date Published
8 pages
In addition to justice systems based on the American paradigm of justice, many contemporary American Indian tribal communities have indigenous justice systems based on a holistic philosophy in which law is a way of life and justice is part of the life process.
The American paradigm is based on the European world view and applies the law through an adversarial system that places two differing parties in the courtroom. The indigenous justice paradigm rests on the world view of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America and is guided by the unwritten customary laws, traditions, and practices that are learned mainly by example and through the oral teachings of tribal elders. The holistic philosophy is a circle of justice that connects everyone involved with a problem or conflict on a continuum, with everyone focused on the same center representing the underlying issues that need to be resolved to attain peace and harmony for the individuals and the community. The methods are based on the concepts of restorative and reparative justice. Methods of conflict resolutions include traditional dispute resolution, peace making, talking circles, family or community gatherings, and traditional mediation. The strong adversarial features of the American justice paradigm will always conflict with the communal nature of most tribes; thus, the inherent restorative and reparative features of the indigenous justice paradigm will continue to be more appealing to the majority of tribal people. Nevertheless, tribes need to identify their community strengths and views on justice, law, and order; non-Indians should assist and support the tribes in strengthening their justice systems and suppress the urge to take over or replace them. Chart, photograph, and footnotes