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Restorative Justice
Restorative Justice

A Healing Process

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Restorative Justice

A Healing Process
Thursday, September 10, 2020

When human beings admit to one another “the exact nature of our wrongs,” as the Twelve Steps recommend, we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides. It is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity, or regain God’s love, but in fact a direct encounter with God’s love. It is not about punishing one side but liberating both sides. Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice Emeritus of the Navajo Nation, speaks from his Diné tradition about “talking out the problem” as a necessary step towards healing justice.

Many people seem to be turning away from law as coercion and are looking to restorative and reparative principles. Restorative is defined as “the process for renewing damaged personal and community relationships.” Reparative is defined as “the process of making things right for those affected by an offender’s behavior.” In other words, how can we help victims? We use only one word for both ideas: peacemaking. The Navajo term is Hozhooji Naat’aanii. . . . I will simply describe it as “talking things out in a good way.”. . . .

The procedure is fairly simple. Its elements are 1) prayer; 2) expressing feelings; 3) “the lecture”; 4) discussion; 5) reconciliation; and 6) consensus.

  1. Prayer. A traditional prayer puts people in the right frame of mind for the talking out. . . .
  2. Expressing feelings. After prayer, everyone has a say about what happened. They also express how they feel about what happened. . . . In peacemaking, you must know how I feel, and I must know how you feel. That is part of making or restoring a healthy relationship. . . .
  3. “The lecture.” When the prayers have been said, when emotions have been expressed, and when people have told their stories, it is time for guidance from our naat’aanii [peacemaker or Elder] . . . when the peacemaker does some teaching. . . . By offering guidance from our stories, traditions, and ceremonies and applying them to the situation, our peacemakers teach the law. . . .
  4. Discussion. Who participates in the peacemaking? The parties themselves (who are the “judges”), a leader and planner (naat’aanii), and relatives. . . . The discussion phase also gets at the causes of problems. . . .
  5. Reconciliation. If you operate a “winner take all” system of justice, expect ongoing problems. If you have a system that works toward reconciliation, you may resolve the conflicts that underlie ongoing problems. . . . Navajo justice is restorative justice. . . .
  6. Consensus. Finally, based upon the prayer, venting, discussion, and knowledge of the traditional way of doing things, the people themselves usually reach a consensus about what to do. Planning is actually a central Navajo justice concept, and the people plan a very practical resolution to the problem. Today, we put it in writing, and the parties sign it. Consensus is what makes our justice and harmony ceremony—peacemaking—a healing process.

Robert Yazzie, “Healing as Justice: The Navajo Response to Crime,” in Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways, ed. Wanda D. McCaslin (Living Justice Press: 2005), 123, 125–126, 127, 128.

Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 39–40.

Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Many cultures have a word that represents this notion of the centrality of relationships. For the Maori, it is communicated by whakapapa; for the Navajo, hozho; for many Africans, the Bantu word ubuntu; for Tibetan Buddhists, tendrel. Although the specific meanings of these words vary, they communicate a similar message: all things are connected to each other in a web of relationships. —Howard Zehr
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