Native American Restorative Justice


Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

On Monday I attended a “home seminar” given by Maria Arpa and organised by curator Marina Wallace. While Maria specialises in interpersonal relations her expertise ranges from gang violence to divorces via business disputes. It was very enlightening and we are now trying to find a way to link this with Artraker’s work.

Maria insisted on “restoring harmony” and is inspired by and trained in non-violent communication as developed by Marshall Rosenberg. A lot of what she talked about, however, echoed my very limited knowledge of Navajo Restorative Justice. Navajos are a native people of America, who have a “horizontal” justice system. Instead of having the figure of the judge enunciating the law and the verdict, “In Native American and First Nation justice philosophy and practice, healing, along with reintegrating individuals into their community, is more important than punishment.”(source: It means that the actions are judged, but not the individuals.

The contemporary language would call “resilience” what Navajos call “healing”: I read in a French magazine that while most native nations would pray for the rain in times of drought, Navajos would pray for the knowledge on how to live without rain (source: Géo, January 2015) and harmony.

“Anglo law is all about rules and principles,” said [James] Zion, whereas in Indian justice the process is very important. Disputes are resolved not by rules but by the idea of relationships.”


This is another lead for creativity and peacemaking that I would like to explore! There is a lot of spirituality in Navajo peacemaking but do you think its central concepts could be developed for much larger disputes  – as in, trans/international conflicts?



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