A.    Inclusiveness of All Faiths

             Peacemaking, life value engagements, and áłchíní báNdazhnit’á (Diné family group conferencing) are broadly inclusive of the varied faiths, oodlą’, that make up modern Navajo accepted beliefs, while always emphasizing the connection of the Navajo people to the roots of their Diné cultural identity.  This involves the teaching principles and values that have been passed down through centuries through our Journey Narratives, and which are embodied in our language, our elders, and our manner of resolving disputes and journeying from chaos to harmony.  

             Christianity, Azee’ bee Nahaghá of Diné Nation (ABNDN), and other faiths held by individuals who choose peacemaking means that peacemaking is necessarily expansive to bring in all tools to promote healing self-actualization.

             Peacemakers who provide services through the Peacemaking Programs are provided support and training in traditional, multi-cultural, western and faith-based approaches.

B.     Children & Family Hózh̨̨ó

             In enacting the Álchíní Bi Beehaz’áannii Act of 2011, the Navajo Nation Council acknowledged that children, even unborn children, occupy a place in Navajo society that can best be described as holy or sacred, and that the Nation’s obligations to its children, especially their need for family to be preserved, need to be met in an aggressive and culturally appropriate manner.[1] 

             Diné traditional culture has eroded steadily throughout the years.  A large segment of our youth have lost their grasp of Navajo language and culture, and may lack cultural competence in Diné culture while having a limited grasp of the culture of the dominant society.  The Program has a responsibility to do its part in preparing children to meet the challenging demands of life both on and off the reservation and ensure family understands its role in maintaining harmony for the benefit of our children. 

             The Program will work to ensure that our children and their families are strongly rooted in their core cultural values as well as gain confidence in navigating the dominant culture.  The Program is committed to addressing the core cultural needs of our children as a priority through youth-centered programming in partnership with Diné Hatathli Association, the Diné Department of Education, Language and Culture, with schools, and with Probation & Parole Services. 

C.     Status Accorded to Elders

             A family’s elders should be included in services, even though they may not reside with the family that is experiencing hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’.  This is because of the critical role of elders in connecting generations and families through their clan and the land to the distant past and generational lives fulfilled, and into the future of life’s possibilities.  Elders convey the specific traditional standards the people are expected to learn, which establishes generational roots for children.  This is how elders would nurture our children. 

             Traditionally, elders pass their knowledge verbally from generation to generation, making spiritual values alive and important. However, in the last century, the youth-centered mainstream culture has taken value away from our elders, and also threatened the elevated status and familial power of our elders.   

             Elders embody the spiritual commitment and history of the Diné.  Age in itself has the unique grace and ability of nurturing for the good of the whole.  In Navajo society, our elders occupy a revered position. Their inclusion in peacemaking provides discipline, compassion, completion and finality. In peacemaking, elders are indispensable.

             Navajo common law on the family  extends beyond the  nuclear family  to  the  child's  grandparents, uncles,  aunts,  cousins  and  clan relationships.[2]   Peacemaking is provided as a forum for issues concerning the care of our elders who need protection.[3]  Elders are especially significant in family issues concerning children, because the Navajo child belongs to more than just the parents.[4]  Maternal  aunts  are  considered  "mothers,"  and  both sets  of  grandparents  are crucial vehicles for passing on knowledge of  Navajo tradition.[5]

D.    Vulnerable Adults

             In March, 2012, the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act was enacted to protect vulnerable adults ages 18 and older from physical, verbal, sexual and emotional abuse, and from neglect or abandonment.  The Act provides that a court must discuss the option of peacemaking when a case involves abuse, neglect or exploitation of elders and other vulnerable adults when the court deems it necessary to issue an Adult Protection Order. [6] If the option of peacemaking is accepted, then the case is referred to the Program in order to resolve conflicts using traditional methods.

             In enacting the Act, the Council stated, “In harmony with traditional and/or common law, it is the policy of the Navajo Nation to respect, revere and protect all individuals, their communities, and their unique qualities.”

             In our Journey Narratives, there is the story of the stricken twins, one of whom was blind, who carried on his back his twin brother who was lame.  They went from one place to another, begging, on an endless journey, and always they were refused help because they had no means to give an offering.  Then they met Monster Slayer, who offered help and did not mention a reward. 

             The stricken twins at one time turned their crying into a song which described their helplessness and despair and hopes that they should be restored to health. The Holy Ones heard the song and resolved never again to turn those away who had no means of saving themselves.

             In Diné society, each person is treated with respect and dignity.  Neither the person's mental nor physical capacity represents the whole person.  K’é, our relationships, tie one person to another in compassion, respect and dignity.  All our relationships involve respectful giving and sharing within our life and being.  When disabled persons are involved, there is the challenge to express needs and to listen and provide help; to comprehend extraordinary responsibilities and sometimes unbearable personal sufferings in the context of k’é.

             Protected are individuals who lack the ability to make responsible decisions for themselves because of mental illness, cognitive impairment, physical disability or illness, use of prescription medication or chronic use of alcohol or drugs.  Regardless of decision-making ability, the Act also protects those who live with a caregiver, or receive services from a caregiver. The Act further protects those whose physical or emotional disabling condition makes it difficult to care for themselves, protect themselves from neglect or abuse, or are in a situation or condition of imminent risk of serious harm or threat of danger or harm to his or her emotional or physical health. 

E.      Extreme Family Discord

             The Navajo Nation Domestic Abuse Protection Act asks that courts provide victims with the peacemaking option, and further provides for domestic violence remedies to be addressed by “peacemakers who have received specialized training in their primary language on the causes, symptoms and dynamics of domestic violence.” 9 N.N.C. § 1652(C).   

             Domestic violence is an extreme example of family discord in which peacemaking should be used to address urgent situations.  When family members become monsters to each other, the teachings that they will need to change are seldom within the ability of the courts.

             Domestic violence is a naayéé’ that may be rooted deep within the family’s history.  Individuals have strayed from nizhoni, the Beauty Way and need guidance to re-attain that path.  The emotions in such situations are so conflicted and intense that it is often beyond the ability of an impartial court system to encounter the emotions and permanently assist a family and individuals, while in peacemaking, the emotions of hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’ are the primary focus.  The peacemaker is sufficiently anchored and protected by traditional teachings and the yeel, or fee, to step into the emotions without also being consumed by them. 

             Diné peacemaking is not mere mediation.  In the domestic violence area, peacemaking is an intense engagement requiring courage, an ability to teach, and the willingness and discipline to receive knowledge.  The Anglo style of mediation in no way approximates the educational and emotional depth of the peacemaking process that is necessary to grapple with domestic violence and other highly-charged naayéé’. 

             Peacemaking persists in Native American societies, always in a form where community involvement, teachings, and discipline are key.  Even though some elements are different, the essence of peacemaking across tribes are similar.  From our observation, the various peacemaking practices work best in the most hazardous and emotionally fraught situations such as domestic violence, which is considered “epidemic” on our various reservations. 

             In May, 2012, the Peacemaking Program observed two domestic violence peacemakings convened by elders of the Confederated Tribes.  While such meetings are confidential, an exception was made for Program staff to attend as observers in these two highly charged instances.  In the Confederated Tribes peacemakings, the judge was present but sat outside the circle.  The abuser sat in the circle with members of the family and several peacemakers.  The entire family was deeply involved, and therefore, no sole victim or victims were left by themselves to face down the abuser, nor were they asked to forgive the abuser, nor was the abuser asked to acknowledge guilt or blame.  The focus was on talking.  As the session progressed, the harms caused were displayed, their causes and effects spoken, and in both sessions, the abuser and victims were overcome with emotion and set on a path of individual and community awareness. 

             For many decades, peacemaking on the Navajo Nation has not been used in situations where safety is a concern.  In the past thirty years, the Navajo Nation court system, focusing on safety issues first and foremost in legal interventions, has cautiously advocated coerced separation.  The presumption is that separation increases safety.  However, it is clear that coerced separation may sometimes result in greater violence, especially when there is no police presence to enforce the separation.  The issuance of a restraining order, without involvement and investment of a rural and isolated community, and without police presence, may escalate violence.

             Peacemaking, in essence, serves to involve and invest the often isolated community.  The sessions gather a family and community tightly around the abuser and protectively around victims.  In a controlled setting where the peacemaker makes it clear that the group will work towards education and positive change, and fingers are not to be pointed, the sessions validate victims’ suffering as real and undeserved, serve to create a sense of wider responsibility in the family and community, and grapple with the problems of the involved individuals through changing, educating, and re-claiming.

             The greatest benefit is embracement by the group.  Peacemaking allows the deepest hurts to be voiced and heard within the family and community without forcing victims to take on the role of accuser in front of justice system strangers.

             Oppression is put into community view, handled and discussed at the pace needed with traditional guidance and values, with everyone being heard, with the family and community providing support, and with the peacemaker exerting control and influence from beginning to end. 

             Abuse is brought out to the light of day.  Social supports for abusive conduct are addressed and removed.  The peacemaker provides teachings that lead everyone involved to create meaningful opportunities for hózh̨̨ó, and which enable the family to establish community consequences for re-abuse.

F.      Restorative Justice

             Restorative justice in traditional Diné justice means to “restore” in conformity with justice principles.  Wrongdoers, those who are harmed, and their affected families and community are engaged in search of solutions that promote repair and rebuilding.  A high level of accountability is required by our community of an offender.  This is coupled with a great burden on all components of our justice system to rehabilitate and bring the offender back into the community according to traditional principles.  

             The Peacemaking Program will work to assist the courts and agencies in determining nályééh, recommending alternative sentencings, and in helping to ensure full accountability, community participation, and the necessary resources to bring an offender back to their families and community.  Diné justice throws no one away. 

             Ná bináhaazláo  means coming to a comprehensive solution.  In our justice system, this means there is a circle of responsibilities.  Diné justice requires all agencies and community members necessary fulfill these responsibilities are part of our justice system.   Justice components integrate and coordinate with mental health, social service, behavioral health professionals and traditional counselors where necessary.  Given the very high rate of alcohol and substance abuse disorders implicated in Indian Country crime, the Navajo Nation has emphasized that integration is needed in almost all instances. [7] 

[1] CO-38-11 (October 26, 2011)

[2] Davis v. Means, 7 Nav. R. 100, 103 (Nav. Sup. Ct.  1994) (“The importance of his relatives to the Nava[j]o can scarcely be exaggerated.”)

[3] 9 N.N.C. §§ 1801 et seq.

[4] In the Matter of A.M.K., No. SC-CV-38-10, slip op. at 11 (Nav. Sup. Ct. Oct 8, 2010) citing In re Interest of J J S ,  4 Nav. R.  192 (W.R. Dist. Ct. 1983).

[5] In the Matter of A.M.K., slip op. at 11.

[6] 9 N.N.C. § 1924

[7] Accountability and Returning the Offender to the Community: Core Responsibilities of Indian Justice, April 21, 2008 Inter-Tribal Memorandum to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.