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Talking circles have long facilitated peaceful discussions and community gatherings. The circles have been a place of equality, and now they will serve as a model for the Tribal Courts as it brings back a tradition from long ago: Native Justice.
What is it?
Native Justice, commonly referred to as Peacemaking, is an alternative route to justice and an entirely diferent way to define justice. It is how Natives resolved conflicts before the Europeans came.
The Pokagon Band is bringing Native Justice back into the community. It will be how we resolve disputes between citizens, without using the Tribal Courts. It utilizes ceremonial traditions, talking circles, and circle keepers to bring people involved in disputes to common ground.
We have broken it into three strands: Native Justice for Court, Native Justice Community Conflict and Dispute Resolution Forum, and Native Justice Community Education and Awareness.
The Native Justice Community Conflict and Dispute Resolution Forum is what citizens and community members can use to resolve disputes among each another.
How is it being developed?
On July 2, Chairman John Warren, other Council members, Native Justice Community Advisory Board members, and Court personnel gathered in the Community Center to discuss the Pokagon Band Native Justice values, goals, processes and citizen involvement.
At this meeting, they determined potential circle keepers and training they will need, the process for utilizing the Native Justice forum, ceremonies to be performed during Native Justice sessions, and what happens after the Native Justice forum is used. This plan is in a draft form.
What kinds of disputes is it for?
Citizens can use the Native Justice forum for civil disputes before coming to the court.
The court will continue to handle criminal cases, but the court encourages citizens to seek the Native Justice forum for their civil disputes.
Why is this better than using a court?
American court systems focus on determining a winner and a loser, potentially destroying relationships, but the Native Justice forum strives to preserve the tribal community and the relationships within.
How can I be involved?
Circle keepers serve as facilitators in the talking circles, and they should be culturally informed, honest, respected, have life experience, and have knowledge of available Pokagon Band programs for the participants.
Circle keepers are not judges; they do not decide the outcome. Those involved in the dispute will determine their solution. They will each set standards and be expected to adhere to those, and they will also design the consequences if they do not.
People seeking use of the Native Justice forum are expected to be patient, responsive, respectful, open-minded, solution-oriented, engaged, equal, mentally present, actively listen, know there is support and alternate solutions.
Native Justice exists worldwide in many native communities because it is the most community appropriate way to resolve disputes and conflicts. Since it is so effective with better outcomes, it has attracted the interest of legal scholars worldwide within the past couple of decades. Many other Indian tribes across the United States have revitalized it to complement the adversarial process courts which have been superimposed upon their communities. Additionally, many other court systems across the United States now require or involve some sort of alternative conflict resolution.
If you’d like to be more involved in the revitalization of Native Justice in the Pokagon Band community, please contact Jason S. Wesaw, Peacemaking Coordinator, at (269) 462-4318.