The Navajo Nation

The Navajo Nation extends into three states (Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico) and covers over 220,000 miles, making it larger than 10 states. At about 300,000 strong, the Navajo Nation is among the largest tribes in the country, second only to the Cherokee Nation. In 1991, the Navajo government was reorganized into a three branch system (executive, legislative, and judicial). More than 100 units of local governance, known as Chapters, operate within the Nation.

For hundreds of years, the Navajo lived under a traditional justice system composed of both Navajo common law and consensus-oriented judicial procedures. This structure was displaced in 1892, with the forced introduction of the Bureau of Indian Affairsí Court of Indian Offenses. In 1959, the Navajo Nation replaced this Court of Indian Offenses with an adversarial court system authorized under Navajo law. And in the early 1980s, the Navajo judiciary began restoring the use of traditional Navajo law in the Nationís court system. With the Navajo Councilís passage of the Judicial Reform Act in 1985, this movement became official. In 1999, the Honoring Nations program at Harvardís John F. Kennedy School of Government bestowed its highest honor on the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch for its "innovative legal system" providing a "unique integration of Navajo and Western law" that is ďindependent, fair, responsive, and consistent with the Nationís culture and traditions."

Today, Navajo common and statutory laws are the "laws of preference" in the Nationís courts. Seven district courts, five family courts, and 250 Peacemakers in the Nationís 110 districts successfully help to resolve a wide variety of individual, business, and property disputes, managing a caseload of nearly 100,000 cases each year. The Nationís bar membership rules require formal training in Navajo common law and codes as a condition to practicing in Navajo Nation courts.