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Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law

A Tradition of Tribal Self-Governance

2009
Author:

Raymond D. Austin
Foreword by Robert A. Williams, Jr.

Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law

The only book on the world’s largest tribal court system and Navajo common law

The Navajo Nation court system is the largest tribal legal system in the world. Justice Raymond D. Austin considers the history and implications of how the Navajo Nation courts apply foundational Navajo doctrines to modern legal issues. In addition to detailed case studies, Justice Austin provides a broad view of tribal law, outlining how other indigenous peoples can draw on traditional precepts to control their own futures.

Justice Austin, always a trailblazer, is one of the main architects of Navajo common law. Now he has given us a comprehensive explanation of his nation’s common law in all its power, fairness, and beauty. This book should be read by people the world over who believe in searching out the authenticity of law and society in its truest and most profound meanings.

Charles Wilkinson, author of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations

The Navajo Nation court system is the largest and most established tribal legal system in the world. Since the landmark 1959 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Lee that affirmed tribal court authority over reservation-based claims, the Navajo Nation has been at the vanguard of a far-reaching, transformative jurisprudential movement among Indian tribes in North America and indigenous peoples around the world to retrieve and use traditional values to address contemporary legal issues.

A justice on the Navajo Nation Supreme Court for sixteen years, Justice Raymond D. Austin has been deeply involved in the movement to develop tribal courts and tribal law as effective means of modern self-government. He has written foundational opinions that have established Navajo common law and, throughout his legal career, has recognized the benefit of tribal customs and traditions as tools of restorative justice.

In Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law, Justice Austin considers the history and implications of how the Navajo Nation courts apply foundational Navajo doctrines to modern legal issues. He explains key Navajo foundational concepts like Hózhó (harmony), K’é (peacefulness and solidarity), and K’éí (kinship) both within the Navajo cultural context and, using the case method of legal analysis, as they are adapted and applied by Navajo judges in virtually every important area of legal life in the tribe.

In addition to detailed case studies, Justice Austin provides a broad view of tribal law, documenting the development of tribal courts as important institutions of indigenous self-governance and outlining how other indigenous peoples, both in North America and elsewhere around the world, can draw on traditional precepts to achieve self-determination and self-government, solve community problems, and control their own futures.

Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law

Raymond D. Austin (Navajo), Ph.D., J.D., is Distinguished Jurist in Residence at the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson. A member of the state bars of Arizona and Utah and the Navajo Nation Bar Association, Austin served as justice on the Navajo Nation Supreme Court from 1985 to 2001. He wrote many foundational Navajo Supreme Court opinions that revitalized Navajo customary law. He has served as legal adviser to the Pascua Yaqui Court of Appeals and as Judge Pro Tempore on the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division I.


Robert A. Williams, Jr. (Lumbee) is the E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and American Indian Studies and director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in Tucson. He is author of The American Indian in Western Legal Thought: The Discourses of Conquest; Linking Arms Together: American Indian Treaty Visions of Law and Peace, 1600-1800; and Like a Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the Legal History of Racism in America (Minnesota, 2006).

Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law

Justice Austin, always a trailblazer, is one of the main architects of Navajo common law. Now he has given us a comprehensive explanation of his nation’s common law in all its power, fairness, and beauty. This book should be read by people the world over who believe in searching out the authenticity of law and society in its truest and most profound meanings.

Charles Wilkinson, author of Blood Struggle: The Rise of Modern Indian Nations

The book unapologetically embraces a Navajo-centric perspective and resists generalizing to pan-Indian history, experience, and dovernance forms. Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law can be appreciated on multiple levels. The message to the general reader is simple: Navajo courts and Navajo law is distinctly Navajo. . . . But beneath this simplicity lies a rich discussion of how three Dine values—H ozho, K’e, and K’ei—are used in practice by the Navajo Supreme Court.

American Indian Law Review

Navajo Courts and Navajo Common Law: A Tradition of Tribal Self-Governance is a groundbreaking in-depth treatment of a subject deserving more attention.

The Law and Politics Book Review

The lay readers will be interested to read of the sound logic and the deep communal traditions that enrich Navajo justice today and will gain a deep appreciation of the signal values of harmony, peace, solidarity, and kinship in the advancement of fair outcomes in dispute resolution. That said, the book’s chief contribution will be at the level of advanced legal studies.

Library Journal

The book is engaging, insightful, and thought provoking, an important contribution to the law and the academy.

Wicazo Sa Review

Austin’s work is soon to be a classic.

American Indian Quarterly