In the 1800’s traditional Native American approaches to dealing with crime in their communities were wiped out with the establishment of The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Courts of Indian Offenses. However in recent years many tribes like the Navajo Nation have begun to rekindle their native practices of peacemaking rather than use the punitive model that was imposed on them so long ago. Peacemaking is a type of restorative practice and is the traditional Native American approach to justice, usually consisting of one or more peacemakers—often community elders—who gently guide a conversation involving not only those directly involved in an offense or conflict but family members, friends, and the larger community. While this practice is being revitalized within our first nation communities, organizations such as the Center for Court Innovation & the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance have received funding to work with tribal nations around the country to find ways of introducing these traditional peacemaking courts into non-traditional settings.
In discussions I had with Aaron Arnold, director of the Tribal Justice Division at the Center for Court Innovation Tribal Justice division, we spoke about how their Community Justice Centers already have a different feeling based on the intentions behind the spaces they are using. I asked if he was also seeing some spatial manifestation of the peacemaking values inherent in the tribal justice system. He mentioned that the Ho-Chunk nation of Wisconsin has already begun to develop new spaces that resonate with their native practices. Their new courtroom incorporates natural materials such as stone and wood. Its arrangement is circular and in the center is a fire pit. I have yet to see this space but am note surprise that innovations in courtroom design are already taking place support changes in the system. I am very excited about CCI’s endeavors to incorporate peacemaking traditions in all our lives and look forward to getting up to Wisconsin to see these new spaces. I am sure that we will start to see many more.
Deanna VanBuren is the principal and founder of FOURM design studio in Oakland California.
Her practice specializes in designing for alternatives to incarceration. She is currently on the national board of Architects Designers Planners for Social Responsibility