27 Clearinghouse Rev. 893 (1993-1994)
The Reawakening of Sacred Justice

handle is hein.journals/clear27 and id is 893 raw text is: The Reawakening of Sacred Justice
by Diane LeResche*

I. Introduction
any of the two million Native Americans are
in the process of reawakening their traditional
peacemaking ways, finding the human and
other resources needed to institutionalize sacred jus-
tice within their tribes. The recognition that adversarial
courts-the method of justice which was imposed upon
tribes--have contributed to the weakening of their com-
munities is an impetus to the search for the type of justice
system which reflects tribal values and practices. A
thoughtful move toward the development of comprehen-
sive tribal justice systems (a system with courts, tradi-
Sacred justice is found when the importance
of restoring balance to relationships
has been acknowledged.
tional peacemaking modified for the contemporary con-
text, and violence prevention programs) is occurring
across Indian country. Discussions are prevalent on how
to identify and perhaps codify common and customary
law, as well as on how, specifically, to describe traditional
conflict resolution processes.
The approximately 500 recognized tribes in the
United States (in addition to Alaskan Natives, Native
Hawaiians, Urban Indians, and Canadian aboriginal
bands) have diverse social and governmental structures.
They maintain various types of tribal and traditional
courts and formal and informal peacemaking procedures.
Native American tribes vary as individual personalities
vary and in terms of the degree to which they are tradi-
tionalist or progressive, bicultural, or urban and accultur-
ated. Nevertheless, there are some common, general
tendencies when they come to define the type of justice
which feels, and is, Indian. Sacred justice is Indian
justice and is practiced in a variety of peacemaking fo-
rums. Sacred justice is not the goal of justice found in
adversarial courts. Courts seek distributive or wild-and-
rough justice.
* Diane LeResche received a Ph.D. in conflict
analysis and resolution from George Mason University
and is currently a tribal peacemaking consultant for the

II. Sacred Justice Not Distributive or
Wild Justice
hat is justice? There are cultural variations in
what is considered to be a just way to handle
conflicts and crimes. Some cultures tend to
view justice as distributive justice. Distributive justice is
concerned with answers to questions such as, how is the
property going to be divided? Who is going to get what?
Is the resource going to be shared equally? Is there an
equitable distribution of resources? The mainstream
American courts make decisions on distributive justice.
Another preferred view of justice is what some might
call wild-and-rough justice. Wild-and-rough justice
seeks revenge and retaliation, punishment, sentences for
the guilty, separation of the innocent and the condemned,
and determinations of who is bad and who is good. The
focus of wild justice is on retaliation, winning, and look-
ing out only for oneself or for one's client. With wild
justice, people frequently continue to be enemies. Wild
justice is also seen in the courts.
In general, a Native American perspective on justice
is what I have termed sacred justice. This is not at all
the same as distributive justice or wild-and-rough justice.
Sacred justice is concerned with reconciling, mending
broken relationships, providing healing solutions, and
Spirituality permeates all aspects
of the peacemaking process,
from opening prayers to some form
of a healing ceremony.
addressing the underlying causes of a disagreement
(which are often perceived as indicative of someone's
failure to live according to prescribed spiritual ways).
Sacred justice is found when the importance of restoring
balance to relationships has been acknowledged. It cares
about the heart, feelings. It is the giving of advice, the
recalling of people's responsibilities toward one another.
It seeks to help people reconnect with the higher spirits;
National Indian law Support Center and many Native
American tribes. Her office is at 2787 Via Caballero Del
Sur, Santa Fe, NM 87505, (505) 474-0755.

Clearinghouse Review * Decemberc1993


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