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Assessment of ‘Access to Justice’

I am glad to see a Native American lawyer as dean of a major university school of law.

I am also glad to see the issues related to Indian law as a topic. I see a lot of good coming from Kevin Washburn’s work. I do, however, have one concern. A part of me was disappointed as I felt once again the Native perspective is discounted.

The federally funded study had a goal, to find out what works to improve justice in Indian country. I understand federal, state and tribal laws and forms of justice were examined to better improve justice in Indian country and recommendations were made to do so. Tribal laws in the current IRA government are far from Native American cultural ways of justice. The result of the study supported the current punitive adversarial system of traditional Western approach to justice. The recommendations are not surprising or to be criticized by most measures. The Native American historical approach to justice, as far as I know, has no place in the recommendations of the study.

I am aware of systems of oppression. This includes the Native American post-colonial, colonized mindset that perpetuates oppression. This applies to the oppressed natural and effective ways of justice, Native people used for generations. The Native American natural way of justice is replaced with an unnatural, ineffective and costly Western system of justice. The Western concept of justice is adversarial and punitive and often leaves the offender and victim with unresolved painful issues. The result is the cycle of violence continues, feuds remain, and communities do not heal as offenses affect all in the community and a need for a large justice system.

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The traditional, cultural Native American ways of justice are by nature to restore relationships, does its best to right a wrong and to maintain peace. The offender and victim, as well as all who have a stake in the offense, meet face to face in a healthy setting with established rules and competent leaders to guide the process of justice/healing. The result is usually forgiveness by the victim and compensation by the offender. Needs of the victim as well as the offender are met. Although recidivism of the offender is not the goal, it is usually a natural result.

I would like to have seen from this study a recommendation to incorporate some of the natural, cultural ways of Native American justice. Like many things in today’s times a blending of both Western and Native cultural values is possible.

– Raulin Martin Jr.

Oglala Sioux Tribal member

Pine Ridge, S.D.