By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
ROCKY BOY AGENCY - The Chippewa Cree Tribal Court is attempting to resurrect the traditional justice method of peacemaking and mediation, a tool tribal officials say their elders used in the past.
"Peacemaking is something the tribe has historically done to mitigate disputes, and we're just looking to go back to those methods," said Duane Gopher, chief judge for the tribal court.
"Peacemaking on Rocky Boy," a three-day workshop beginning Tuesday at Stone Child College, aims to teach tribal members dispute resolution procedures - mediation tools that rely on the abilities of both disputing parties to reach their own resolution, with the assistance of a trained "peacemaker."
The workshop will be led by University of Montana adjunct professor Art Lusse, through the Division of Educational Research and Services at UM. It's funded through a federal grant DERS received from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing project.
DERS has offered similar peacemaking workshops on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Salish and Kootenai, and Fort Peck reservations.
"We often refer to the workshops as an excavation," Lusse said. "These tribes used mediation a long, long time ago. We're trying to help them bring that back."
Tribal court officials said they're eager to find an approach to justice that's tailor-made to fit their tribe's needs.
"The traditional, western-style justice system does not work well for our people," said Walter Denny, a juvenile probation officer with the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court. "Mediation will hopefully allow us to resolve disputes and conflicts with the entire community's involvement, like our people have done in the past."
Lusse said traditional Native American justice was "horizontal" as opposed to the Anglo-European "vertical" system of justice. While a vertical system relies heavily on a power hierarchy, where decisions are dictated by a judge, a horizontal system incorporates basic fundamentals of mediation, focusing on problem solving and healing for both victim and offender. Lusse said vertical justice rarely makes an impact in helping to solve the underlying issues that initially caused the dispute.
"In horizontal justice, everyone is equal, everyone shares the problem and everyone works on the problem together to get it resolved," Lusse said. "Unlike courtroom cases, no one wins, no one loses."
Mediation is a type of restorative justice that can be applied in many contexts, from child custody cases to juvenile crimes. Tribal officials in Rocky Boy said they're anxious to find new ways to deal with youth offenders.
"This approach allows the juvenile offenders and the community to come together to resolve problems, making the situation better for the community as a whole," Lusse said.
Jodi Murie, a juvenile probation officer with the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court, said finding alternative sentences and ways of dealing with juvenile offenders may help youths find their identity and reconnect with the tribe, as the entire community becomes involved in the justice process.
"It's the whole, 'It takes an entire tribe to raise a child' philosophy," she said.
"Mediation will help us explore alternatives not available through the traditional litigation process," Gopher said. "It will allow us to work for a peaceful solution to problems, rather than a battle in court."
Gopher said both disputing parties must consent to mediation before it's used as an alternative to solving a dispute in court. Tribal court officials said they're hopeful tribal members will embrace the traditional justice method of the past.
"We're hopeful that mediation can become the first step in dealing with disputes," Denny said. "The court will always be there as a backup system."
Next week's workshop will be the first of three, teaching tribal participants the basic fundamentals of mediation. Those who complete the training are eligible to receive course credits from Stone Child College and national accreditation through the Association for Conflict Resolution.
Anyone is welcome to attend the mediation workshop, which begins Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. in Room 205 of Kennewash Hall at Stone Child College. For more information, call 395-4735.