Do tribal traditions have a role in Michigan courts?


  Every once in a while, someone

tells Chief Judge Michael

Petoskey that he or she doesn’t

believe in peacemaking courts.

Petoskey doesn’t get it.

“They don’t believe in wellness?”

asked Petoskey, who is

chief judge of the Grand Traverse

Band Tribal Court. “They don’t believe in healing? They

don’t believe in community harmony?

They don’t believe in reconciliation?”

Last week, about 80 local law

professionals, mediators and others

involved in the criminal justice

community gathered in the

courtroom of Washtenaw County

Trial Judge Timothy Connors to

spend the day learning about tribal

traditions and philosophy that

might be incorporated into Michigan


Washtenaw County has

received funding for a one-year

trial to determine whether a

peacemaking court will work


Connors, who has a longtime

affinity for Native American culture,

told the crowd he had been

thinking about and praying for an

answer to the question: What

native philosophies could be

applied to state courts? He said if

he had to sum it up, it would be

this: the affirmation of the positive

rather than the punishment of

negative activity.

“And how we do that?” he

asked. “We live it, all of us, in

our communities.”

Friday’s program was one of

the educational opportunities provided

through the State Court

Administrative Office grant for

the Peacemaking Court Project.

The goal was to determine which,

if any, tribal traditions and practices

should be incorporated into

the state court system for resolving


Connors said that he, too, has

confronted naysayers.

“I still don’t know why anyone

would be threatened by this,”

said Connors.

For six hours, the participants

learned about peacemaking,

Native American law and culture,

creating healthy communities and

the seven “grandfather teachings”

or love, respect, honesty, truth,

bravery, humility and wisdom,

the guiding principles for native


Paul Raphael and JoAnne

Gasco, members of the Grand

Traverse Band of Ottawa, a member

of the Tribal Council at Grand

Traverse Band of Ottawa &

Chippewa Indians, presented an

overview of tribal peacemaking

traditions and practices.

Their tribal court has had a

peacemaking court for more than

20 years.

“This is our way, but we also

know that you in your own communities

and your own culture

have something very similar,”

said Gasco. “Hopefully today, by

listening, it’ll wake up something

in you.”

Washtenaw County Friend of

the Court Judah Garber said he

learned a lot about Native American

philosophy and noted that

many of the principles are reflected

locally in informal ways, especially

in family mediation.

“In domestic relationships, it’s

always our goal to help the parents

self-determine their family’s

direction as much as possible, and

this fits in well with that,” he


Garber said he looks forward

to the next program in a few weeks.