As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving this week, children in schools across the nation are learning about how the first Pilgrims relied on Native Americans to survive their first year. That’s an important part of our history, but there is still a lot that we can learn from Native American tribes today, including how to use courts to resolve conflicts.
Did you know that there are about one hundred and fifty tribal courts across the United States? Unlike state and federal courts that use an adversarial system to resolve disputes, many tribal courts use a different approach.
The National Institute of Justice, an agency of the US Department of Justice, points out that while some indigenous justice systems are based on the American paradigm for courts, many others use a holistic philosophy that focuses not just on punishment and providing victims with payment, but on bringing harmony and peace to the community.
According to the NIJ website:
“The holistic philosophy is a circle of justice that connects everyone involved with a problem or conflict on a continuum, with everyone focused on the same center. The center of the circle represents the underlying issues that need to be resolved to attain peace and harmony for the individuals and the community. The continuum represents the entire process, from disclosure of problems, to discussion and resolution, to making amends and restoring relationships.”
Sounds a lot more constructive than traditional litigation, for sure. Because of its many benefits, US courts have adopted some of this philosophy in recent years and now actively promote alternatives to litigation like mediation and arbitration. Not only is alternative dispute resolution usually much less expensive, aggravating and time-consuming than litigation, it has a tremendous success rate.
It’s so successful, in fact, that state and local governments around the country fund mediation programs and strongly encourage courts to utilize them. Unfortunately, many people still don’t even know these programs exist and often unnecessarily spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers when their problem could be better resolved in mediation or arbitration.
One big reason for this is likely that we’re bombarded with ads by personal injury lawyers and rarely hear anything about mediation or arbitration in the media. If we counted how many ads there are on TV for personal injury lawyers compared to ads for mediation services, I’d guess there would be about 100,000 ads for personal injury firms for every one ad there is for mediation, and that’s probably being conservative.
Mediation and arbitration aren’t going to work in all disputes, but this Thanksgiving, it’s important to know that alternative dispute resolution is available, and it often leaves people thankful they ditched their lawsuit and tried something new. For more information, one great source is the National Association for Community Mediation.