Lecture 1: Indigenous Roots of Restorative Justice: The Story of Peacemaking Circles

Quotes from Chief Justice Emeritus Robert Yazzie (Navajo):

“The horizontal justice model uses a horizontal line to portray equality: no person is above another. A better description of the horizontal model, and one often used by Indians to portray their thought, is a circle. In a circle, there is no right or left, nor is there a beginning or an end; every point (or person) on the line of a circle looks to the same center as the focus. The circle is the symbol of Navajo justice because it is perfect, unbroken, and a simile of unity and oneness. It conveys the image of people gathering together for discussion.”

“The term “solidarity” is essential to an understanding of both Navajo healing and justice…The Navajo understanding of “solidarity” is difficult to translate into English, but it carries connotations which help the individual to reconcile self with family, community, nature, and the cosmos…The sense of oneness with one’s surroundings, and the reconciliation of the individual with everyone and everything, makes an alternative to vertical justice work. Navajo justice rejects simply convicting a person and putting them in prison; instead it favors methods which use solidarity to restore good relations among people. Most importantly, it restores good relations with self.”

Robert Yazzie, “Life Comes From It: Navajo Concepts of Justice,” New Mexico Law Review 24 (1994): 180-81.

Suggested Readings:

Gloria Lee, “Defining Traditional Healing,” in Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways, ed. Wanda D. McCaslin (St. Paul: Living Justice Press, 2005), 98-107.

Jarem Sawatsky, “Hollow Water Community,” in The Ethic of Traditional Communities and the Spirit of Healing Justice: Studies from Hollow Water, the Iona Community, and Plum Village (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009): 97-137.

Reed, Thomas. “A Critical Review of the Native American Tradition of Circle Practices,” in Indigenous Research of Land, Self, and Spirit, ed. Robin Throne (2020): 132-152.

Robert Yazzie, “Life Comes From It: Navajo Concepts of Justice,” New Mexico Law Review 24 (1994): 175-190.