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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
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Nature's Law
Spiritual Life, Governance, Culture, Traditions, Resources, Context and Background
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The Informal System of Justice
Making Room

The Goal of "Justice"

The United States

Ensuring Space Is
Left Open In Canada

An Apache

The Informal
System of Justice

Customary Law

Canada, Too, Has
 Deep Differences

The Indigenous
 Justice Process

The Navajo
 Approach to

Visual representation of nature's laws

In the Pueblos of the Southwestern U.S., family forums, such as family gatherings and talking circles, facilitated by family elders or community leaders, are important elements in the justice system. Matters usually involve family problems, marital conflicts, juvenile misconduct, violent or abusive behavior, parental misconduct, or property disputes. Customary laws, sanctions, and practices are used. Individuals are summoned to these gatherings following traditional protocols initiated by the chosen elder. For example, in Pueblo communities the gathering is convened by the aggrieved person's family, which must personally notify the accused and his or her family of the time and place of the gathering.

Generally, elders are selected as spokespersons responsible for opening and closing the meetings with prayers. During the meeting, each side has an opportunity to speak. The victim may speak on his or her own behalf, and the family may assist in conveying the victim's issues. Extended family members often serve as spokespersons if the victim is very young or vulnerable. Similarly, a spokesperson may be designated to speak on behalf of the accused, especially if the accused is a juvenile or if other circumstances prevent the accused from speaking. When the family forum cannot resolve a conflict, the matter may be pursued elsewhere. Offender compliance is obligatory and monitored by the families involved. It is discretionary for decisions and agreements to be recorded by the family.

Community forums require more formal protocols than family forums, but draw on the families' willingness to discuss the issues, events, or accusations. These are mediated by tribal officials or representatives. Some tribes have citizen boards that serve as peace makers or facilitators. Customary laws, sanctions and practices are used. Personal notice is made by tribal representatives to the individuals and families involved. Usually, this is all that is necessary to compel individuals to meet in both the family and community forums. When necessary, a personal escort to the gathering place may be provided by tribal officials.

In the community forum, the tribal representative acts as facilitator and participates in the resolution process along with the offender and victim and their families. As with the family forum, prayers are said at the beginning and at closure. An unresolved matter may be taken to the next level, however, but tribes may or may not offer an appeal process for the community forum. In the Navajo peacemaker system, formal charges in the Navajo district court may be filed. In some Pueblo communities, matters may be pursued through the traditional court. Offender compliance is obligatory and monitored by the families involved and tribal officials

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