Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law: A Tradition of Tribal Self-Governance

Nov 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 22-2: Crossing Borders, Winter 2010, Media Reviews

NAVAJO COURTS AND NAVAJO COMMON LAW: A TRADITION OF TRIBAL SELF-GOVERNANCEBy Raymond D. Austin
University of Minnesota Press (2009)

Review by Michael W. Simpson

This review is necessarily personal. I went to law school with the hope I might help people like me – poor in material wealth but hardworking. Unfortunately, I discovered a legal system that protects the privileged even as it sometimes allowed us “others” an occasional win. I learned firsthand that the majority legal system preserves the hierarchy of power that oppresses.

In Austin’s book, he shows us an alternative system – the Navajo courts and common law – based upon other values such as harmony, balance, and restoration. It tells Indigenous peoples how problems can be solved by reaching back to core values and ways while living in the present world. Too often people want others to solve their problems, but this book explains that solutions are within the people.

This book is needed for the privileged people with Yale and Harvard law degrees who populate our courts, their heads filled with stereotypes and fear toward Indigenous peoples. It shows that there is no reason for fear – and that perhaps the majority culture can yet be saved from itself. This classic is a must for any tribal college.

Michael W. Simpson is a lawyer, teacher, and social activist and may be reached at mwsjd85@aol.com.

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