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Define “Justice”, How do you define it?

I reflect on two things when I think about justice. The thing about justice for indigenous tribes/Native Americans is : It’s not our word; many tribes' belief in justice-”Beicontoniihi”- wasn’t what we experience in today’s courts. Western Justice, like democracy, is a theory. From what I have learned in my law classes it is a different type of experience also because what can be written usually is not how we experience the world as indigenous people.. Many people wake up hurting, grieving, wanting justice, and needing closure in our community. There is a need for a healthy community again. Many wake up trying to wrap their heads around the things that go on around them. Historically, our tribe had societies who took charge of disciplining ourselves as a nation. The idea/theory was to ensure everyone was treated equally and with “justice”-Beicectoniihi’. Today those societies are rarely practiced and are replaced with cops/police/ security and the court system. Much of who we were as a nation was replaced, our societies took care of our children, and no one in our tribe ever was a foster child, because our people adopt each other and take care of each other, which also means teaching and incorporating value into our lives. We had positive interactions with each other that made our people strong in ways of relationships and respect. Much of who we were as a tribe came from knowing that what happened to one person would impact us all as a nation, that’s how close we used to be in relation to each other. Our leaders knew our way of life would come with change and that it would come swiftly and that it would be difficult. Taking away the land and the resources was a large blow to all tribes, what that does is limit us in how we interact with the world. The inability to connect to the plants, animals, water, stars, and seasons limits us in how we experience the world which creates an unbalance in how we interact with our communities and resources. We as tribal high plains people used to roam the earth and follow our food. Now we live in one place and expect the world to come to us and it does. We used to have healthy limits and boundaries of what we accepted into our lives. Today everything is instant gratification; Food can be delivered, and food is available if you have money or means to trade or hunt. Food is available but is limited when you are not healthy enough to acquire it in a way that isn’t compromising. We have changed as tribal people, I always asked my parents “Is this change for the best?”. Well, just like the theory or idea of law and democracy, we are finding out the hard way, that what works for us as a tribe and as contemporary indigenous people will be looked back on and either statement can be true “It didn’t work for them”, or “ they were resilient, they found what worked and didn’t work, they are still here.” In the end, we all want to make sense of the world, we all need closure for the trauma and things that have happened to us and our ancestors. We want our lives to make sense so we can make positive life changes for our future (our youth). We want to wake up and live in a world that embraces us and loves us for who we are as tribal people. We should not have to compromise who we are to be treated in a world where we are all struggling. General society says “It wasn’t I, who did that to you!” General society says, “Why can’t you move on?” Well there are numerous reasons and the main reason is that it has become systemic in the way we are treated as tribal people, so systematic it impacts our way of life.

As tribal nations who had societies, how we discipline ourselves and organize ourselves as tribes worked for us for thousands of years until the government made it illegal to practice our cultures. They wrote and passed policies for tribal nations to not practice their traditional forms of government which included their societies. It is no wonder general society sees natives as a struggling population. No one ever explains these weren’t our forms of governing ourselves, the word justice for us means more than theoretical rhetoric, it includes our elders and how we interact with our nations as communities. This is a large reason community healing in tribal nations is also very vital, healing is self preservation. Lastly we are still struggling, as native indigenous populations, and we will continue to struggle until someone takes accountability for their policies and processes in their theory/ideas of what justice is and how indigenous populations should fit into that idea. We don’t need apologies, we need changed behavior. What is your definition of justice and how does that fit into our everyday values?


Hohou! Nohuusoho'. Thank you! Yufna Soldier Wolf


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