Duane Champagne: Common ground on Indian Country justice

"In this country, all citizens are equal under the law—in theory. In Indian country, however, the courts, police and incarceration facilities are multicultural, multiinstitutional and multijurisdictional.

That cuts both ways.

The arrangement itself is complex. Tribal governments work within either federal or state criminal jurisdictions. But all too often, tribal communities don’t share their concept of justice.

Take the case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978), in which the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited tribal courts from hearing cases involving non-Indians. The decision also said that U.S. citizens could be subject to culturally alien legal proceedings and concepts of tribal justice. A generation later, that proviso still holds. Today, when addressing criminal offenses, many traditional indigenous communities try to provide compensation or restoration of well-being to the victim’s family or kin. The idea is to heal the community and discourage further transgressions.

Similarly, many tribal courts use traditional procedures to hear and adjudicate civil and criminal cases. For example, the Navajo court system tries to apply standard common law whenever it can."

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Duane Champagne: Consensus Among Government and Tribal Justice Systems (Indian Country Today 5/8)

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