Do tribal traditions have a role in Michigan courts? County receives grant to explore possibility of peacemaking court


 By  Jo Mathis

Legal News
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 courts.
Washtenaw County has received funding for a one-year trial period to determine whether a peacemaking court will work here.
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 disputes.  
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 people.
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 that day, and noted that many of the principles are already 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 said.
Garber said he looks forward to the next program in a few weeks, which will get down to more of the practical features of peacemaking courts.
“I’m really excited by it,” Garber said, “and eager to get into the meat of it.”