Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Peacemaking Customs Help Link Indian Elders, Youths

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Peacemaking Customs Help Link Indian Elders, Youths

Article excerpt

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the last of a four-part series on alternative dispute resolution methods in the tribal court systems of the 37 Indian tribes in Oklahoma. Its focus is on the use of traditional peacemaking customs in conjunction with or parallel to the Anglo court practices adopted by Indian courts. By Ronda Fears

Journal Record Staff Reporter

A great benefit of using traditional peacemaking customs as an alternative to Indian tribal courts that are fashioned after Anglo-American courts, perhaps, is the opportunity it has to link elders and youth _ preservers and carriers of heritage.

"Our elders, growing in numbers, who have reached the end of a century, are a special resource, a resource that, for our own sake, we should not waste," said Amos McNac, a Creek lawmender, at a tribal peacemaking conference in Tulsa in May.

"They (elders) carry, within them, the source of our identity and our history. They are witnesses of a time that will never come again. We would do well to listen."

The peacemaker concept is used by the Muscogee Creek to settle disputes that arise in the Creek Nation and among members of its chartered communities. The conference encouraged the other 36 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma, most of which were represented at the two-day event, to adopt an alternative dispute resolution system in conjunction with their tribal courts.

Traditional dispute handlers among various tribes include figures such as peacemakers, lawmenders, faithkeepers, keepers of the bundles, peace chiefs, a council of elders and others.

Tribal courts, like many of their "Anglo" role models, across the United States are looking for ways to address the heavy caseload clogging their courtrooms, conference speakers said. The conference was sponsored by the Native American Legal Resource Center at Oklahoma City University's School of Law. A national peacemaking conference is set for September in New Mexico.

For many Indians, litigation often cuts to the core of their society _ a struggle between two sets of values. Whereas ancestral ways looked to healing conflict, from a spiritual standpoint as well as material, the Anglo-American courts Indians have adopted merely offer a sterile application of the law with no regard to the relationship of the people involved.

"For the tribe to function and prosper cohesively, as in the past, depends upon the survival of its tribal identity, society and culture," said Ange Aunko Hamilton, a staff attorney with Oklahoma Indian Legal Services Inc. in Oklahoma City, in a paper submitted at the conference.

"The culture of the tribe is seen by many, without and within the tribe, as merely the arts and music, but it is actually the breadth and scope of how the tribal society interacts on a daily basis. …

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