Indigenous Justice Systems

Dual justice systems exist in several contemporary tribal communities. These tribal justice systems of the tribal people are based on indigenous paradigm and American paradigm. American paradigm’s roots stem from European world views and based on retributive philosophy that’s punitive, adversarial, and hierarchical and guided by written rules, guidelines, and procedures and codified laws. It is an upward vertical power structure and decision making is limited to few people. This philosophy upholds that a criminal should suffer, because the victim suffered. It is premised on notions that a criminal is wicked and responsible for wrong actions and punishments are deserved. Offenders are reconciled with communities in the payment of debt to society, victims are appeased and society has had its revenge. American paradigm applies law through adversarial systems, placing two parties in courtrooms and hereby determines defendants in a case’s innocence or guilt and a winner will be declared.
Indigenous justice paradigm uses holistic philosophy and North American’s aboriginal tribal people’s world view. These systems guided by traditions, practices and unwritten customary laws and learned through example and oral teachings to tribal people by the elders in a tribe. Holistic philosophy connects everybody involved in the crime or conflict and for harmony and peace within a community. The laws are based on reparative and restorative justice and basic principles of healing and the focus lies on the victim of a crime. The victim’s spiritual, mental, emotional and physical well-being and the goal are to renew and heal the victim. The offender also has to perform deliberate acts in regaining trust and dignity and return to a healthy mental, physical and spiritual state. Offender must ask forgiveness, engage in acts that will demonstrate the apology to the victim and the community, make restitution and amends. Offenders will remain an integral part of a tribal community and crimes is handled and seen as human error which require corrective intervention by elders, tribal leaders and families.

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