Native Americans, Crime, and Justice

Native Americans, Crime, and Justice

Native Americans, Crime, and Justice

Native Americans, Crime, and Justice


The historical involvement of native peoples within the criminal justice system is a narrative of tragedy and injustice, yet Native American involvement in this system has not been well studied. Despite disproportionate representation in the criminal justice system, far more time has been spent studying other minority groups. Native Americans, Crime, and Justice is the first book in many years to provide students with a comprehensive overview of Native Americans and the unique challenges they face as justice is meted out, both in the United States and Canada. Crossing disciplines, this important anthology, which includes the voices of both Native Americans and non–Native Americans, provides students in criminology, sociology, and Native American studies courses with articles ranging from the scholarly to the more humanistic and also includes a number of news accounts that complement the other pieces with a sense of immediacy and timeliness about the involvement of Native Americans in the criminal justice system. Students and general readers alike will come away from this collection with a better, more-informed understanding of Native Americans, crime, and justice, whether learning about the unique problem of tribal versus federal jurisdiction on Indian lands, patterns of Native American crime, the process of decision making in tribal courts, or Native American delinquency.


THE HONORABLE ROBERT YAZZIE Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation

We live in a postcolonial world. There have been five decades of efforts to end alien control of distinct peoples in colonies. Most often, Native Americans and other indigenous peoples are left out of the process. The picture is changing. Around the world, there is a new awareness that indigenous peoples are still here. Rather than assimilate or enter the mainstream of national (and nationalist) society, they keep their languages, cultures, and religions. One aspect of culture is law, and there is still traditional law and government. Its use may be open, as with Navajo Nation efforts to consciously use Navajo common law as the law of preference. There are subtle efforts to keep community justice, as with Canadian Indians hiding offenses or child neglect cases from non-Native officials to handle them locally.

States attempt two general approaches to indigenous law. Some take an integrationist approach to respond to high numbers of indigenous prison inmates and the obvious failure of state law in dealing with social problems. That is, justice planners assume that if Native Americans are brought into the state system as justices of the peace, judges, lawyers, police, or social workers, that will resolve the problem. It does not. The law used by Native American actors in justice systems is an alien law that does not respond to local needs and indigenous thinking about justice. Native Americans are still subject to control by legislatures, attorneys general, or non-Native American program heads or police commanders.

The other approach is one of recognition. It assumes that communities are capable of handling their own problems and that a local decision is superior to an imposed one. Colonial police and judges can attempt to watch and enforce, but that works only so long as someone is watching. Native American leaders, including women, were stripped of their traditional positions as peacemakers, and social disruption followed. The Courts of the Navajo Nation are conscious that even they must address the issue of community empowerment. Accordingly, they use Navajo common law as the law of preference in a national (that is, Navajo Nation) court system, but they nourish the return of responsibility for justice to commu-

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