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Student Research: Comparing Navajo Peacemaking & Restorative Justice: A Discussion of the Advantages of Peacemaking for Community


Hanni Wiegand ‘22

Objective & Scope of Paper




            In the aftermath of the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless other victims, communities find themselves asking if there is a better path forward for justice, healing, and prevention of future victims than the traditional criminal justice system. In 2020 alone, there were over 1,127 police-related deaths.¹ Of those deaths, 96% were police shootings, and only in 16 cases (1%) were officers actually charged with a crime.¹ This paper will explore the alternative methods of conflict resolution for communities impacted by police violence. There are a variety of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) processes, but this paper will focus on Navajo Peacemaking and restorative justice. Peacemaking is an indigenous dispute resolution mechanism of the Navajo Nation that emphasizes restoring harmony while restorative justice is a western ADR process that is designed to repair harm and rebuild trust. I argue that Navajo Peacemaking’s incorporation of cultural tools and normative judgement and de-emphasis of guilt make it more effective for healing communities impacted by police violence than traditional restorative justice practices.

In order to prove my hypothesis, I will first provide a brief background on the Navajo and the history of police violence in the US and its impacts. Then, I will outline and compare the Peacemaking and restorative justice processes. Next, through interviews with Navajo tribal members, a community mediator and professor of restorative justice at Cornell University, and a retired police officer of 25 years from Atlantic City, New Jersey, I will explore how and why Peacemaking might be more effective than restorative justice in healing communities impacted by police violence and discuss some of the drawbacks of the Peacemaking & the RJ process. Finally, I will consider the limitations of my paper and define further areas of potential research. 






Historical Section


  1. Navajo Nation


One of the largest Native American tribes, the Navajo Nation occupies the Four Corner states: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah.² Early Navajo people were hunters and gatherers, but when they migrated from Canada to the southwest region of the US, they adopted the sedentary farming style of the Pueblo tribes.² Today, the Navajo are known for their artistry, including pottery, weaving, and their famous silver jewelry making.² Despite the influence of Western society and the adoption of Anglo system of justice, the Navajo people are still closely tied to their spiritual roots and identity. Navajo creation stories teach that everything is interconnected and that individuals must live in harmony with each other and the universe.³ Through prayer songs, stories, and ceremonies, the Navajo people maintain their connection to their past and religion.²


  1. History of Police Violence 

Defined as the “unwarranted or excessive and often illegal use of force against civilians,” forms of police violence ranges from harassment and intimidation to assault, battery, and murder.⁴ Americans of all backgrounds have been victims of police violence with the African American population being disproportionately impacted.⁴ For young black men, police violence is the leading cause of death, with 1 out of 1000 black men being an expected victim.⁵

There are a multitude of factors that explain why African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by police violence. Some of these factors include institutionalized racism and a toxic work culture promoted by predominantly white urban police departments.⁴ Between 1916 to 1970, there was a great exodus of African Americans leaving the rural south for the urban north and west in search of better employment.⁴ Predominantly white communities reacted with hostility towards the African American newcomers, fearing an increase of crime in their neighborhoods. During this period, police saw their role as protectors of these white communities and thus, this sentiment of African Americans as a “threat” was cemented.⁴

The majority of police departments in urban areas were white and emphasized a culture of solidarity. There was an accepted sentiment that when faced with a threat of one’s authority, a “show of force” was necessary.⁴ New cadets trying to fit in perpetuated the culture in order to prove themselves and their loyalty.⁴ This approach, in conjunction with the long history of black stereotypes and prejudice only served to exacerbate police brutality. During this period, police violence in urban cities against African Americans was quite flagrant as police officers saw their brand of violence (verbal abuse, use of excessive force, unlawful arrest, sexual assault against African American women) as more acceptable than the lynching’s of the rural south.⁴ It was not until the 1960s that the escalation of police violence drew public attention when whites became aware of the issue for the first time.⁴


  1. Impacts of Police Violence on Communities

            Race-motivated violence has impacts on the public health of black communities. A study by the University of Atlanta found a link between the use of police force in a community and the rate of risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity of community members.⁵ Researchers also found that minorities experienced higher levels of stress and often feared encounters with the police, which led to more trauma and symptoms of anxiety.⁵ Even for black communities who were not directly impacted by police violence, researchers noted that they experienced an increased number of “poor mental health days” for each killing of African Americans.⁵ In other words, police violence impacts not only communities directly affected but also has indirect effects on the mental health of other black communities. 







Literature Review


Navajo Peacemaking


  1. History of Peacemaking

While the promulgation of ADR has increased since the 1970s as a viable alternative to litigation, Navajo Peacemaking has existed for time immemorial before the creation of the American Constitution.⁶ For hundreds of years, the Navajo Nation used Peacemaking to resolve various forms of conflicts from interpersonal to civil to criminal. To the Navajo, law is the basic element of life, and there is no separation between the spiritual plane and common law.³ This legal system is horizontal in nature in contrast to the vertical and more adversarial Anglo-European system of law.⁶ The horizontal system is a community-based dispute resolution approach that focuses on relationships. The circle embodies the Navajos’ concept of justice in which there is no seat of power but instead an equal ground that is unified and collaborative in nature.³

Today, the Navajo Nation utilizes an amalgamation of horizontal and vertical systems of law to apply justice.³ The Navajo courts mirror the American judicial system and adjudicates both civil and criminal matters. In contrast, the Peacemaker Court, established in 1982, serves as an alternative to Anglo-American law by using consensus-based agreements to resolve conflicts.³ The Peacemaker Court receives cases either through tribal members’ own accord or referrals from courts, schools, and other organizations.³ 


  1. The Process of Peacemaking

The primary objective of Peacemaking is to restore balance and repair relationships. The Navajo philosophy of beehaz’aanii teaches that everyone and everything is interconnected.³ Hence, punishing an individual serves neither the community nor the perpetrator. Instead, this philosophy is centered on achieving hózhǫ or harmony for both the directly and indirectly affected parties.³


The process is straightforward. Individuals affected by the dispute come together to discuss the cause of the disharmony. This includes the perpetrator, the victim, friends, family members, elders, specialists (mental health counselors or substance abuse experts), etc.6 The naat’aanii or the peacemaker begins the session with an opening prayer—usually done in both English and Navajo—and invites supernatural beings to take part in the process.³ The peacemaker is normally a respected individual within the community who is well-versed in Navajo history and culture.³ During the session, the peacemaker is allowed to have an opinion about the dispute but is not in a position of power to persuade others through any tangible form of authority.⁶ Instead, the peacemaker guides participants through the Peacemaking process with prayers and storytelling, keeps the dispute nonviolent, and ensures that everyone has a chance to speak freely.³

After the prayer, the Peacemaking session enters the stage of “taking things out.”³ During this process, the peacemaker invites the parties to explain what happened and the harms they experienced. Venting is often encouraged, and this is the part of the process where excuses emerge.³ The Anglo legal system is based on the excuses for poor behavior, which mitigates an individual’s actions.⁶ Excuses include “rotten social background,” alcoholism, PTSD, etc.⁶ However, in Peacemaking, these excuses for one’s behavior are made not to a judge but rather to family and friends, which forces the offenders to reflect on their behavior and acknowledge the impacts of their actions.⁶ The next step is loosely referred to as “the lecture” or teaching, during which the naat’aanii incorporates Navajo stories of similar past disputes and utilizes Navajo values to provide lessons or reflection of the dispute at hand. Thus, the approach moves parties from “head thinking” into “heart thinking” in order to foster empathy with one another.⁶

The final stage of Peacemaking is reconciliation. At this stage, the parties come to an agreement about what needs to be done to resolve the dispute and provide restitution for the victim.⁶ Types of resolutions include having the offender stay away from the victim for a set time, go to therapy or paying reparations.⁶



Restorative Justice

  1. History of Restorative Justice

Despite modern restorative justice (RJ) emerging in the early 1970s, RJ practices have existed before the creation of state societies.⁷ According to author Walker, the development of feudal ownership altered Western society’s concept of justice.⁷ Conflict, rather than being the property of the parties, became the property of lawyers or the state.⁸ RJ views conflict or injuries as “violation of people and relationships”.(809)⁷ Justice in this case is reconciliation for the victims, offenders, and community. 


  1. Restorative Justice Process

The primary goal of RJ is to heal all the individuals who have been harmed, which can be accomplished by asking the following questions: “Who was hurt? What are their needs? Whose obligations are these?”(809).⁷ The main guiding principles in RJ include inclusive decision-making, active accountability, repairing harm, and rebuilding trust.⁹

 Inclusive decision-making is about providing the victim, offender, and community members the opportunity to share what occurred and explain the impacts they experienced as a result of a particular action or incident.⁹ In traditional punitive systems, offenders are distanced from their crime and simply act as bystanders as their verdicts are handed down by a judge or jury.⁶ In contrast, active accountability invites offenders to take responsibility for their actions and puts the onus on the offender to brainstorm ways to repair the harm he/she caused.⁹

Arguably the most important principle, repairing harm is about undoing the damage caused by offenders and restoring the community to its previous state. This harm can be to the offender, to the victim, or to the community. There are many types of harms including material/physical harm, emotional/spiritual harm, and relational/communal harm. There are often multiple harms in a particular incident, requiring different solutions to address the needs of each harmed party.⁹

The last guiding principle of RJ is rebuilding trust. The harm caused by a particular incident or action causes mistrust between the offender and the victim, and the offender and the community.⁹ It is the obligation of the offender to rebuild trust and restore balance to the community. 


  1. Restorative Justice Process 

There are various types of RJ processes including separation boards, group conferencing, and peace circles.⁷ For this paper, I will focus primarily on RJ circles which are the most similar to Peacemaking. RJ circles can be employed prior to or after a conflict. RJ circles may have a spiritual dimension where a prayer or cultural practice is included.⁹

They are often composed of the victim, offender, impacted community members, and the facilitator(s). The facilitator is a neutral party who sets the tone of the proceedings, provides everyone with an opportunity to speak, and maintains constructive and peaceful communication by using a talking stick, asking questions, summarizing, reflecting, and pointing out areas of agreement or disagreement.⁹

First, the process of RJ circles begins with an introduction in which the facilitator(s) asks the parties to introduce themselves and explain why they are there and what they hope to gain from participating.⁹ Second, participants explain what happened and how it impacted them. During this step, facilitator(s) identify the harms participants experienced and begin to frame the needs of the parties.⁹ Third, the parties brainstorm solutions to the issue at hand and provide suggestions on how to resolve said issue. Fourth, the facilitator(s) invites participants to reflect on the circle and offers final comments.⁹


  1. Restorative Justice in Communities Impacted by Police Violence

Historically, very few police shooting cases go to trial and only a select number have resulted in a conviction. The reasonableness of an officer's actions are determined by the following standard: ‘“(1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others; and (3) whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight”’. (795).⁷ There is a lot of flexibility in the definition of “reasonableness” granted to officers including mistaken belief.⁷ In short, it is difficult to convict police officers of criminal charges for police shootings. 

RJ provides communities impacted by police violence an alternative justice to the uncertainty and inevitable let down of the legal system. Editor of The Atlantic, Vann Newkirk notes that RJ would require police officers to accept guilt for their actions and consider financial and nonfinancial reparations such as community service, paying fines or losing their badges.¹⁰ RJ not only provides restitution, but also presents an opportunity for police departments to face deep seated problems in their ranks such as racism or toxic work cultures.¹⁰

In Seattle, Washington, after the police shooting of John T Williams, a native American wood carver, restorative justice practices enabled the impacted community to de-escalate tensions and work towards a degree of mutual understanding.⁸ Williams, a wood carving artisan, was carrying a knife when he encountered police officer Ian Birk, who yelled at Williams to drop the knife.⁸ Williams had a history of misdemeanors and according to Birk seemed threatening. The shooting increased tensions between community members and police officers, sparking highly emotional protests in the streets.⁸ A year before the shooting of Williams, the community had experienced two shootings of police officers who were killed while sitting in their car.⁸ The death of Williams exacerbated the tensions within the community and led to William’s family being harassed by police officers.⁸

As the tension and distrust reached a new culmination, Williams' family, members of the police force, and affected community members decided to participate in a RJ circle.⁸ The process began with a pre-circle meeting where neutral facilitators explained the process and outlined ground rules, which included excluding the details of the shooting as it was still under legal investigation.⁸ Despite this massive barrier to communication, parties were still able to address the community dynamics that brought about the incident and its impacts.⁸ During the three-hour RJ circle, the parties focused on the community relations between Williams family and officers, and possible resolutions to the conflict. In the end, the parties’ goals were achieved: a need for mutual respect and de-escalation of tensions.⁸


  1. Similarities between Restorative Justice & Peacemaking

Despite the differences in culture and background, there are many similarities between RJ and Navajo Peacemaking. Most notable is the voluntary nature of both dispute resolution systems. Both RJ and Peacemaking are centered on being a voluntary, non-compulsory process in which parties can withdraw their participation at any point. Furthermore, both processes are flexible and fluid. They are designed to meet the needs of the parties and/or community by giving them control over their conflict and the resolution. Lastly, the time horizon and criterion of success are essentially the same. Both RJ and Peacemaking are focused on restoring balance and repairing community relations for the long term. 


  1. Differences between Restorative Justice & Peacemaking


There are various differences between RJ and Peacemaking. In RJ, the facilitator(s) is a neutral third party with no vested interest in the conflict, while the peacemaker is a community member who has the power to state his or her opinion and make suggestions. Furthermore, the number of participants tends to differ. In Peacemaking, participants are not just the victim, offender, and impacted community members but also family, friends, and mentors of the victim and offender as well as mental health counselors and other specialists. However, the most distinguishing factors between RJ and Peacemaking is that Peacemaking incorporates cultural tools and normative judgements and de-emphasizes the importance of guilt in the Peacemaking process. The rest of the paper will focus on these two key differences. 



  1. Incorporation of Cultural Tools & Normative Judgments

            As stated above, one of the most distinguishing features of Peacemaking is its emphasis and incorporation of cultural tools and normative judgements. Professor Donna Coker of law at the University of Miami explains that violence is a social construct born from human interaction. As such, the resolutions to violence must come from the values and narrative of one’s society.¹¹ This same idea is embodied in Peacemaking in which the naat’aanii utilizes Navajo creation stories, journey narratives, and healing ceremonies to confront the psychological impacts of a harm.¹¹ The cultural teachings of the Navajo are a built in belief system.¹²The stories help communicate the shared values of the society and provide a meaningful framework for the parties to translate their experiences and understanding each other’s behaviors.¹¹ For instance, in Peacemaking cases involving battered women, the naat’aanii incorporates stories about equal gender relations in order to help the offender and their family understand the offender’s abusive behavior.¹¹

            Tribal member Stant explains that shared values are the basis of Navajo community bond. In Navajo culture and in Peacemaking, the legal authority goes beyond the age of majority.¹³ In western culture, the majority age is 18 years, after which parents’ legal authority over their children disappears.¹³ In contrast, the Navajo do not recognize this majority age, instead allowing families to intervene on members’ behalf at any age.¹³ “It’s important to recognize this distinction,” Stant explains “because this bond/connection extends to the community as well” and governs how community members relate to one another. 

            This bond is really important because in RJ circles, offenders are making their excuses and giving rationalizations for their behavior not only to family and friends, but also community members who might not share a sense of identity or cultural belief system. The situations that give rise to police violence stem from systemic racism and generational distrust of police officers by black people and vice versa.¹⁴ If the community bond does not exist, giving one’s excuse for one’s behavior and hearing the impacts of one’s actions is still a powerful process, but not as powerful or as transformative if those excuses (especially those given to community members) were given to individuals who have a shared belief system and community bond. 

Furthermore, shared values would also help translate individuals' experiences by providing a framework to discuss systemic issues such as racism, prejudices, and silent microaggressions. As noted by retired officer and Revered Fauntleroy, one of the biggest exacerbators of police violence is lack of mutual trust and understanding between predominately white police departments and black communities. Having a shared set of values especially through mechanisms like faith Fauntleroy explained can help bridge these understanding gaps and address some of the prejudices and misconceptions parties have about one another. 

            When asked if the Navajo community bond is replicable in other cultures, Stant hypothesized that the more diverse the community, the more difficult the buy in the Peacemaking process and the fostering of a shared bond between community members. In contrast, tribal member Witherspoon, Professor Nobles, and Revered Fauntleroy argue that it is possible if given the right tools. For instance, both Witherspoon and Professor Nobles point out that one, willingness to participate is very important, it ensures authenticity of the party’s intentions and two, the parties should have a pre-discussion meeting beforehand with the peacemaker to not only to understand the Peacemaking process but also to share their cultural beliefs and social values. During the Peacemaking process, the naat’aanii can incorporate these stories and point out shared values between the parties. 

Witherspoon added that the incorporation of influencers is incredibly important for challenging the biases and behaviors of the offender. These challenges to the offender's excuse for their behavior come not from the opposing party but instead from the offender’s own support system, which would be a mix of mentors, other officers, department heads etc. whose opinion the offender values.¹² Fauntleroy also mentioned that events like “Coffee with Cops”—a warming station where officers sit with free coffee and talk to community members that stop by—and International day—where community members from different ethnicities share their food and customs with the rest of the community—are important in creating trust and reducing prejudice. Professor Nobles believes that while all these tools are a great way to foster shared values, they will not be able to fully replicate to the same extent the bond and belief system of indigenous groups.


  1. Inconsequence of Guilt

Another distinguishing factor of the Peacemaking process is the lack of emphasis placed on guilt. There are many different types of RJ processes but often RJ’s that are geared towards resolving a conflict after a particular incident have some sort of admission of guilt.¹⁵ Author Coker highlights that in most RJ practices “responsibility for offending has already been admitted, and “victim” and “offender” positions are established before the session starts” (73). Peacemaking on the other hand, de-emphasizes guilt and instead focuses on condemning the offender’s behavior and validating the victim’s experience. Western concept of guilt, Stant explains, focuses on the past. Conditions have happened in which a personal or people have been hurt. In the criminal justice system, the sole purpose of due process is to determine guilt and if guilty, one must compensate for one’s behavior through finances or jail time. However, in Navajo beliefs, individuals must focus on restoring balance in the present¹³. In this manner, guilt is almost inconsequential in Peacemaking because the focus is on shared responsibility to restore harmony. 

            In RJ practices for communities impacted by police violence, the assumptions and expectations that underlie an admission of guilt one, might reduce the willingness of offenders to participate in the ADR process and two, take away from the discussion about the impacts of their actions. Witherspoon explains that focusing on guilt typically makes individuals defensive and more fixated on blame rather than on focusing on the harms and impacts their action caused. Witherspoon adds, if the goal is to have the parties explain their perspective and give a rationale for their behavior, it is possible to do so without admitting guilt. In other words, while parties might not be able to acknowledge they were influenced by bias and prejudice, they will most likely be able to recognize that whether they intended it to or not, their actions have impacted others. 

            Despite the benefits of de-emphasizing guilt in ADR, there are also drawbacks. Professor Nobles stresses that lack of admission of guilt from the offender can retraumatize the victim. “Harm is relative,” Professor Nobles explains, “it’s specific to each person” which means that Peacemaking or RJ cannot work for every situation or for everyone. We cannot generalize and say there are harms that are too great because it is really dependent on a person.¹⁵ However, in cases involving violence and abuse it is important that the voluntary nature of the process is maintained and that parties will not be re-traumatized by meeting.¹⁵


  1. Drawbacks of RJ & Peacemaking. 

            Other drawbacks of RJ and Peacemaking include the lack of adequate enforcement, perceived belief of “cheap justice,” and possible inability of these processes to diminish the inherent power imbalance between the offender and the victim.¹¹ Due to the voluntary nature of RJ and Peacemaking, the agreement reached at the end of the process is as rigid and as formalized as the party’s desire. If the agreement was to be broken neither RJ nor Peacemaking have any real enforcement mechanism. The only exceptions are in court referred cases where if the parties do not uphold their part of the agreement, the case might be referred back to the courts.¹¹ In these cases, the facilitator or the peacemaker can use the threat of adjudication as a tool to ensure the parties cooperation.¹¹

            In RJ & Peacemaking, there is an emphasis on the offender’s apology and recognition of the impacts of his/her actions which might feel like “cheap justice” for the victim. This emphasis on the offender, may take attention away from the victim’s needs and put pressure on the victim to forgive the offender before he/she is ready.¹¹ Reverend Fauntleroy argues that the ADR processes are not well suited for situations like George Floyd’s murder because there is no explanation or excuse that would justify an officer’s behavior or take way a community’s pain. “I don’t believe there is restorative justice in that.”¹⁴

Furthermore, RJ & Peacemaking might not be able to fully account for the power imbalance between victim and offender. For instance, in self-referred cases of battery, abusive men sometimes took advantage of the Peacemaking process as a front to bring their victim out of hiding.¹¹ Similarly, author Merkey notes that RJ processes can be “manipulated, corrupted, co-opted” if not safeguarded properly (1137). Lastly, author Coker acknowledges that Peacemaking’s emphasis on cultural tools and incorporation of normative judgements—one of the advantages of Peacemaking—also has its drawbacks. Changes in Navajo culture means that not every tribal member shares the same shared sense of clan relations and the reliance on Navajo stories and values to create community identity might be assumptive and ill conceived.¹¹




In this research paper, I explored how the ADR processes Peacemaking and RJ are able to overcome some of the pitfalls of our criminal justice system to meet the needs of communities impacted by police violence. In particular, I highlighted how Peacemaking’s incorporation of culture tools and shared community identity might increase the efficacy of an offender understanding the impact of his/her behavior on community members. In addition, the use of culture tools also provides a framework to discuss systemic issues of racism and allows parties to address the lack of understanding between one another. Similarly, the de-emphasis of guilt in the Peacemaking process enables parties to focus on the impacts of a particular incident without necessarily being inhibited by the offenders being fixated on blame. 

            Despite the numerous benefits of Peacemaking and RJ, there are also several disadvantages to these ADR processes including the possibility of retraumatizing parties, inadequate enforcement mechanism for agreements, perception of “cheap justice,” and inability to diminish inherent power imbalances between victim and offender. Peacemaking’s emphasis on cultural tools might also be unreliable as Navajo members today do not all share the same sense of community connection or respect for traditional values. Even with its drawbacks, Peacemaking has a real potential to be an effective tool for healing communities impacted by police violence.


Limitations & Further Areas of Research

Due to the theoretical nature of this paper, there are major limitations in the paper's ability to effectively address the efficacy of Navajo Peacemaking in meeting the needs of communities impacted by police violence. There are no examples of Peacemaking being applied in these types of incidents, so the paper’s evidence is solely based on literature review and interviews with key stakeholders. Application of Peacemaking in communities impacted by police violence will be necessary to analyze the real efficacy. Other future areas of potential research include extensive investigation of current RJ practices employed by impacted communities of the police violence in order to understand what the needs of these communities are and how RJ meets or falls short of them.



            The Darla Deardorff model on intercultural competency is a process orientation tool that has helped me frame and reflect on my experiences with different cultures and peoples. My time with the Hopi & Navajo Mediation Program has challenged my political, academic, and personal identity and long-held beliefs. Through this program, I was forced to examine some of the misconceptions and prejudices I held about Native Americans as well as reflect on my academic and career goals I envisioned for myself. 

            My first few classes with the Hopi & Navajo Mediation Program challenged my political misconceptions about Native people. Initially, I had viewed Native Americans as one of the many ethnic minorities in the US. This is not true. Indigenous populations in the US are political entities with their own sovereignty. They function as semi-autonomous nations with their own distinct governments, histories, and cultures. The fundamental shift in viewing them as a political entity and a sovereign nation made me reflect on the severity and multifaceted experience of their people. The notion of “separate but equal” that came about in the Supreme Court case of Plessy v Ferguson (1896) is an ideology that most African Americans (and other minorities groups) have rejected but one most Native Americans have embraced and tried to realize. This shift in understanding was welcomed and caused low dissonance because it gave me a framework and a lens to evaluate and interpret their experiences, which was uniquely their own. 

            My second shift in thinking was about the academic and career aspirations I had pictured for myself. When I applied to this program, I was thrilled by the opportunity to learn more about environmental dispute resolution because I had previously considered issues like pollution, water use, mining rights, etc. to be too large of disputes to be tackled by anything short of policy changes. I had envisioned this to be a possible area of specialization for my future professional career in conflict resolution. While I was fascinated by the program's speakers and learned a great deal, I was surprised by my lack of interest in pursuing it as a career. This shift in my career decisions caused low dissonance because I understand that as we learn and explore new things, our life plan and career aspirations need to change with us. 

            Lastly, the Hopi & Navajo Mediation Program challenged my personal beliefs about Native people. Throughout the program, I was astounded by how little I knew about Native Americans despite being a junior in college and haven taken several years of American history. This astoundment quickly morphed into discomfort. The majority of Americans view indigenous peoples as a marginalized group who are out of sight and out of mind. Their history is a monochrome tapestry of turbulence, neglect, and suffering. While this may be true, it does not capture the perseverance, diversity, and victories of Native Americans. We view them as a people who are weak and need help rather than strong groups of people who have endured and who have much to teach us. Mainstream history does not reflect how the government structure of the Iroquois Confederation influenced and was incorporated into aspects of the American Constitution or that the dispute resolution practices of indigenous communities predated and were superior to our own conflict resolution systems. There is a lot of mainstream history does not teach us, and I find the inconsistencies between what we learned growing up, or lack thereof, and what happened, cause high dissonance for me because it means not only acknowledging my own prejudice and ignorance about Native people but also realizing that the majority of Americans walk through the world in a similar manner. 

            All in all, this program has been incredibly illuminating. I have learned so much, grown so much, and met some wonderful people. If we are to rewrite mainstream history to challenge the ignorance and prejudice of most Americans, this program is an absolute necessity whether virtual or in person. It is also important for students to understand that they do not need to leave the US to get an international experience or develop intercultural competency. 





[1] “2020 Police Violence Report.” Mapping Police Violence, Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.


[2] Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Navajo”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 6 May. 2020, Accessed 9 April 2021.

[3] Witherspoon, Dwight. “Navajo Peacemaking.” Hopi and Navajo Engaged Learning Program, 7 January 2021. Virtual. Lecture.

[4] Moore, Leonard. “Police brutality in the United States”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Jul. 2020, Accessed 9 April 2021.


[5] Sandoiu, Ana. "Police violence: Physical and mental health impacts on Black Americans." MedicalNewsToday, HealthLine Media, 22 June 2020,


[6] ZION, JAMES W. “The Dynamics of Navajo Peacemaking.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, vol. 14, no. 1, 1998, pp. 58–74.


[7] Walker, Hannah. “Unspoken Immunity and Reimagined Justice: The Potential for Implementing Restorative Justice and Community Justice Models in Police-related Shootings.” Pace Law Review, vol. 37, no. 2, Spring 2017, pp. 789–825.


[8] Merkey, Laura. “Building Trust and Breaking down the Wall: The Use of Restorative Justice to Repair Police-Community Relationships.” Missouri Law Review, vol. 80, no. 4, 2015, pp. 1133–1144.


[9] Karp, David R., and Marilyn Peterson Armour. The Little Book of Restorative Justice for Colleges and Universities: Repairing Harm and Rebuilding Trust in Response to Student Misconduct. Second edition. New York, New York: Good Books, 2019. Web.


[10] Newkirk, Vann. "An Alternative to the Madness of Proving Police Injustice." The Atlantic, 29 June 2016.


[11] Coker, Donna. “Restorative Justice, Navajo Peacemaking and Domestic Violence.” Theoretical Criminology, vol. 10, no. 1, 2006, pp. 67–85.


[12] Witherspoon, Dwight. Interview. Conducted by Hanni Wiegand, 12 March 2021. 


[13] Stant, MacArthur. Interview. Conducted by Hanni Wiegand, 12 March 2021.


[14] Fauntleroy, Jeffree. Interview. Conducted by Hanni Wiegand, 29 March 2021.


[15] Nobles, Katrina. Interview. Conducted by Hanni Wiegand, 17 March 2021.