NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 1)

Producer
Native Nations Institute
Year

In the first of two interviews conducted in conjunction with his tenure as NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow, John Petoskey, citizen and long-time General Counsel of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians (GTB), discusses how GTB has worked and continues to work to build and maintain a strong, independent system of justice that is viewed as legitimate by GTB citizens. He also discusses GTB's integration of peacemaking and peacemaker courts into its justice systems as a culturally appropriate way of resolving disputes and bringing healing to the community. 

People
Resource Type
Citation

Petoskey, John. "NNI Indigenous Leadership Fellow: John Petoskey (Part 1)." Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, University of Arizona. Tucson, Arizona. October 1, 2013. Interview.

Ian Record:

"Welcome to Leading Native Nations. I'm your host, Ian Record. On today's program, we are honored to have with us John Petoskey. John is a citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and has spent much of the past 30 years serving as his nation's general counsel. As general counsel, he participates in all federal, state and tribal litigation and administrative hearings where his nation is a plaintiff or defendant. In addition, John wrote the majority of Grand Traverse Band's statutes, published as the Grand Traverse Band Code. He also currently serves as partner with Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLP and is spending this week at the University of Arizona serving as Indigenous Leadership Fellow with the University's Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy. John, welcome, and good to have you with us today."

John Petoskey:

"Thank you."

Ian Record:

"I've shared a few highlights of your very impressive personal biography, but why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself. What did I leave out?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, I have been with the Grand Traverse Band for, as you said, a long time. Prior to that I did work for Legal Services...Indian Legal Services in Michigan and importantly, I worked on one of the leading cases on off-reservation treaty fishing and on-reservation treaty fishing that was called U.S. v. Michigan, which followed the same genesis of the United States v. Washington. And when I originally got out of law school in 1979, I was lucky to participate in the trial portion of that case as a first-year law student that had not yet gone to a federal district court opinion. So that was very gratifying and enlightening to me to see how the United States' trust responsibility is implemented for tribes. At the same time, I'm a product of my history in Michigan. My father is from Little Traverse Bay Band[s of Odawa Indians]; my mother is from Grand Traverse Bay Band. And through circumstances of history, the Ottawa tribes of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan were not federally recognized under the 1855 treaty, which was a misinterpretation where the Secretary of Interior took federal recognition away in 1871. As a consequence of that act, the state of Indian tribes in Michigan, the Ottawa tribes were desolate, and U.S. v. Michigan was the first spark of hope, if you will, by reversing that decline that the tribes had been in for so long.

After U.S. v. Michigan, I went to work at Indian Pueblo Legal Services in Northern New Mexico and I worked for, in one capacity or the other, for most of the pueblos as a legal services attorney representing poor Indians in the tribal justice systems of the Pueblos and in state and federal court. Those were largely jurisdictional cases at that time in the early "˜80s. There was a lot of assertion of state authority and state court jurisdiction for on-reservation activities. So I litigated a lot of cross motions for summary judgment of no subject matter jurisdiction and I also got to participate in some unique Pueblo-initiated procedures to resolve justice questions that the Pueblos had on their reservations, which were unique because the Pueblos have a unique system of justice that is still largely indigenously driven, if you will, from their historical experience.

After Indian Pueblo Legal Services, I went to Alaska Legal Services, which does have a totally different legal history under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. I was in a place called Nome, Alaska and I went out to villages in an area that was probably 500 miles in diameter surrounding Nome and provided legal services to remote isolated villages. And there you could see the coalescence of all federal Indian policy in a community of 150 people where you would have a traditional government and Indian Reorganization Act government and a local government and an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporation board. So you'd have four layers of government for people, for a total population of 150 people. It was designed for failure, which that's a separate question, but those are items that are left out.

After Alaska Legal Services I went to work for National Indian Youth Council, where I worked on voting rights cases in the southwest turning at-large voting structures into single member districts, largely in New Mexico, in Cibola County and McKinley County. Then I also worked on First Amendment cases in which tribes were alleging that they had a right under the First Amendment to access to federal public domain law that was under the control of the federal government, but for historical reasons the tribes had ceremonial relationships with the land and their ceremonial relationships with the land were being impaired by the Federal Public Land Policies that prohibited their access in some cases or in other cases prohibited their access on an exclusive basis for some of their ceremonies that they needed to conduct."

Ian Record:

"We here at NNI know quite a bit about the Grand Traverse Band. A number of our staff have worked with the Band over the years. You and some of my colleagues for instance go way back to the late "˜80s, early "˜90s and the Band has also received three awards from our partner organization the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and its Honoring Nations Award Program, but share with our audience a bit more about your nation, just who is the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians?"

John Petoskey:

"The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians are Indians that lived in and around the Grand Traverse Bay of Northern Michigan. Michigan is shaped like a hand. If you're from Michigan, people always say to each other, "˜Where are you from?' and they'll hold up a hand and they'll say, "˜Well, I'm from Lansing, I'm from Detroit or I'm from Gaylord.' In this case, using the hand as the analogy, Grand Traverse Band is located on the little finger. That's where the peninsula is. The historical area was a reservation that was created in 1855. Just immediately north to us is the Little Traverse Bay Band, which is located in Petoskey, Michigan. South to us is the Little River Band, which is located in and around Manistee, which is right there.

The Grand Traverse Band achieved federal recognition under the Administrative Procedures Process in 1980. It was the first tribe to go through the federal acknowledgement process under the then-developing federal regulations that go all the way back to the Policy Review Commission back to the "˜70s. When it achieved federal recognition, it had to engage in building all of the governance institutions that were necessary to establish a tribal government. Incident to that, I had met Steve Cornell when I had worked at National Indian Youth Council because he was a personal friend of Gerald Wilkinson and Vine Deloria and Dr. Cornell or Steve Cornell used to come and visit with Gerald Wilkinson and I met him initially in that time period that I was working at National Indian Youth Council.

And then after I started working as general counsel for the tribe in the "˜80s, we were engaged in the process of building these governmental institutions as a new federally recognized tribe and we had to look around for models of how to establish our tribal organization, how to establish our tribal constitution and go forward from there. And so we'd have constitutional committees drafting the constitution and we also were engaged in a fight at that time with James Watt, who was the Assistant Secretary of the Interior. And the position under the Reagan administration was that federal acknowledgement was limited to a discrete number of people on the original petition that was submitted, and our argument was that federal acknowledgement covered everybody that was eligible as a descendent from Grand Traverse Band from the last annuity treaty payment that took place in 1910. And obviously, our category that we said were eligible was much larger than the category that the feds wanted to recognize.

As a consequence, we were engaged in litigation with the federal government over the terms of our recognition, which impaired the development of some of our governance institutions, particularly our constitution, which the Interior did not ratify until after that litigation was resolved in 1986 and then the constitution was ratified in 1988, I believe. But at that time, once the constitution was ratified, we really had to come up with the procedures, if you will, for our justice institutions, for our legislative process and for our executive process. And doing research of what models to follow, I came across the Harvard Project on Economic Development and at that time, this was before the internet was widely available, we had to send away for these series of memorandums that students had written on a number of different aspects of Indian economic development and Indian governance issues. And so I basically sent away for all the memorandums and went through the memorandums and cut and paste what I thought was the best in those memorandums for GTB's situation and then went through the process of having the executive-legislature enact those provisions for Grand Traverse Band. Incident to that, I then reinitiated my friendship with Steve Cornell and Steve came up to Grand Traverse Band on two different occasions to visit and to present information and points of views on how he developed tribal institutions. Also, Vine Deloria came up a couple times because I had met and known him at National Indian Youth Council and gave brief talks to our tribal council on the historical relationship of tribal governance and the Department of the Interior and the United States. And Vine had at that time and always did have a very focused analysis of how tribal governments had been overpowered by the federal government. And so in all senses of the word, he was an advocate for strong tribal governance and he promoted that when he was speaking with our tribal council and providing advice on which way to go. So that's, in a quick thumbnail I think that's what the relationship was."

Ian Record:

"Following up on this issue of constitutional development, you said that you were one of the people charged with going out and learning what other tribes had been doing to develop governments that made sense for them and that you sort of worked to integrate the best of what you had learned from others. Was there at some point in the process a customization of some of those governing institutions to the particular circumstances, cultural values of Grand Traverse in trying to make it their own?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, yes. The process of writing a constitution is not...doesn't rise to the level of the Federalist Papers, where you have advocates writing arguments for and against different propositions that are in the constitution. In the Indian community, what that comes down to, if you will, the "Federalist Paper" analogy is a group of people sitting around working their way through the constitution occasion after occasion after occasion after occasion and bringing out their own personal experience from the community as to what will work and what will not work, and so that's what the Grand Traverse Band community did."

Ian Record:

"And how has the...in your estimation how has the constitution worked in the 25 years it's been in place? Do you feel like it's beginning to gain...it has gained widespread cultural and community acceptance?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes. The one unique aspect of our constitution that is different from other constitutions is most entities elect a tripartite system of governance where they have executive, legislature and judiciary. At the time, when we were developing our constitution, the concept of consensus through council discussion was the primary value that people brought to the table of communication of trading off what would work and what would not work. The concept of separating the executive and legislature was not high on anybody's list, and so the GTB constitution has a combined executive-legislative function, so the council meets as a group and acts by motion, ordinance or resolution and it's the majority vote of the seven on the council. There are itemized activities that the executive power has -- and the vice chair and the treasurer and secretary -- but that is still in the context of the council acting as the executive-legislative combined branch of government. So we don't have, if you will, effectively, three coordinate branches of government. We have two branches of government, the executive-legislature as one and the judiciary as the other."

Ian Record:

"Let's talk about the judiciary. I plan to cover a number of topics with you today, but first and foremost is the issue of the judiciary or justice systems comprehensively and I'd like to start big picture, and based on your vast experience in this area, what role do you feel justice systems play in a tribe's ability to exercise its sovereignty effectively, to achieve its priorities, to create a healthier more culturally vibrant community?"

John Petoskey:

"Oh, that's kind of an open-ended question. I would like to just go directly to Grand Traverse Band. In our constitution we have the judiciary as an independent branch of government with independent authority and it's recognized in the constitution to have that. The judiciary serves the function as a check on the executive and legislative actions and it also provides a forum for dispute resolution between the community and community members over behavior that is not acceptable or behavior that comes to the court to resolve disputes between two individuals.

For example, I'm thinking of family law matters, dissolution of marriages or abuse and neglect on children or cases like that, so you need a third party to resolve disputes where the question of who is right and who is wrong is an open question subject to the advocacy of the parties. I don't see the judiciary in a larger, big-picture sense that you outlined. I see it in a little-picture sense of resolving disputes and if an individual, a tribal member, has a dispute with the tribal council over the enactment of legislation or the administration of that legislation by the delegated entities that the council has set up, then that tribal council member under our system, if our constitution has the right to go into tribal court because our constitution waives the immunity of the executive and the legislature and to assert that the application of that rule to that particular person is wrong for whatever reason.

And the Section 10 of our constitution incorporates almost word for word the Indian Civil Rights Act, which is almost...with notable exception leaves out certain elements from the Bill of Rights. The Indian Civil Rights Act is modeled on the Bill of Rights and those are the, if you will, the constitutional values that the federal system has, that the state system has, and by force of this overpowering values of constitutional law from our coordinate sovereign governments, the federal government and the state government, most tribal members are familiar with the U.S. federal constitutional rights and state constitutional rights; therefore, if they have a complaint with the United...with the tribe, they frame their complaint in that context and what is not unique about our constitution, but other constitutions, also have this, is that the constitution recognizes that there's an automatic waiver for that type of cause of action by a tribal member to sue the executive and legislature alleging a violation of Chapter 10 of our constitution, which effectively is the Indian Civil Rights Act. And our constitutional members have done that a number of times.

And then we also have disputes between...we have had disputes between the executive and the judicial...the executive and legislative branch and the judicial branch and the constitution does provide a methodology for the resolution of those disputes. We have had judicial removals and it's a process of the executive-legislature filing a claim in the judiciary unit, a panel of judicial appointees are appointed to determine whether or not a judge should be removed for cause, that are established in the constitution. So when you say big picture, it's too big for me to grasp because everything that I...for myself at least, I'm not a big-picture person and look at concrete problems and how to solve concrete problems, and those concrete problems I guess do have big picture implications, but it's solving the concrete problems that I focus on at least."

Ian Record:

"Well, and that's one of the reasons we thought of you as a good pick to be one of our fellows is that in our vast experience working with tribes on the ground in tribal communities is the fact that nation building is not a top-down proposition. It really starts at the grassroots and it works from the bottom up with the problems that every day...that come up every day that tribal members face. For instance, seeking redress against the government when they feel that they've been wronged. You mentioned that Grand Traverse Band's justice system is strong and independent and NNI and Harvard Project have done a lot of research in this area and it's been pretty conclusive in terms of finding that having a strong and independent justice system is really vital to a nation's efforts to achieve its goals. And I'm curious to get your take on that finding based upon your own experience and obviously the strength and independence of the justice system was not an accident. This was a purposeful process that the tribe has engaged in over a very long period of time to build that strength, to build that independence, and I guess my question to you would be how do you see that research finding in the context of what Grand Traverse has done?"

John Petoskey:

"In the context of...well, I would support it first of all. Having a strong and independent justice system is very important. And I think Grand Traverse Band has been lucky in some of the initial judges that it had that were tribal members that served for a long time on the judicial system and the fact that they were tribal citizens gave greater legitimacy for their decisions and for the conflicts that were resolved by judicial action. When we have had problems with the Grand Traverse Band is when we have...our constitution was written in the early "˜80s and actually implemented in 1988 and the provision that we have for judicial appointments does have a proviso of appointing attorneys who are non-members, and so on occasion we have had to appoint non-member attorneys to act as tribal judges. And the argument there is, "˜Well, an attorney has training in procedural due process, dispute resolution, the framing of legal arguments for the resolution of complex disputes and is familiar with the substantive law that comes forward that regulates human relationships and governmental relationships and so therefore the attorney, even though not a member, would bring value in that position as a tribal judge,' and that argument I accept.

Nevertheless, the proviso in my experience has been that when a non-Indian, non-citizen of the tribe is appointed, there are problems that inevitably arise because the legitimacy of that judicial officer is questioned by the community. I would propose a thought experiment that people would see this analogy or this problem in another manner. For example, I don't think any tribal constitution provides a provision in which you can elect to their tribal council non-members so long as they're attorneys or that they're engineers or something else, and that's just unheard of. And so the executive and legislative branch that are made up of members has greater legitimacy for implementing a decision even if the decision is wrong because it's coming from that citizen group in that community. Conversely, when a judge who is not a member is trying to implement a decision, even if that decision is right, it has less legitimacy.

So the cautionary tale that I would have on building strong judicial departments is that you keep in mind, and I know this is somewhat of a touchy subject, but you keep in mind that those should be citizen members that are filling those positions and it lends greater legitimacy to the resolution of the problems, and maybe this is a problem just uniquely to some tribes that have that provision in their constitution for the appointment of non-Indians, but if you look at the Indian law world, all of the Indian law professors -- you could tick them off on your hand that are the big stars -- also serve on tribal courts. And so they're not bringing their membership as a member of a tribe, they're coming to serve on those courts as people that are profoundly sympathetic to Indians and profoundly conversant with the principles of federal Indian law and the principles of substantive law, but nevertheless, they are bringing the same baggage of their cultural tradition to an Indian forum for resolving disputes involving principally Indians. There's variations on that too because some of those...some people argue that tribal courts are courts of general jurisdiction so they can resolve disputes involving Indians and non-Indians and I accept that, but what I'm saying is that a citizen/member of the tribe lends greater legitimacy to the resolution of the dispute."

Ian Record:

"To me what you're really talking about are what I see as two challenges. One is there needs to be a thoughtful, strategic discussion about. 'What should the qualifications of judges be?' So for instance, obviously should they have passed the bar in the state in which the tribe resides? That's often a criteria. I think what the Navajo example and a growing number of other tribal examples teach us is that tribes really placing an emphasis on their judges having understanding of that tribe's common cultural law and being in a position to apply that. And from what you're saying that non-Indian outsiders are just not equipped with that because they haven't grown up in that environment."

John Petoskey:

"Yes. In fact there should be, and I think Navajo does this and I confess my ignorance in this, but there should be a Navajo bar exam and tribes should implement their own bar exams for the practice within their own courts. Certainly all tribes now implement admission to their bar for their court but really all that is...and I'm not saying this in a negative or pejorative sense, but all that is is motioning yourself in for admission, paying the admission fee and being admitted to the bar of that particular tribe. But, if a tribe were to develop a bar exam and it's not...doesn't necessarily have to be on the substantive elements of what constitutes a tort crime, but it would have to be on something, in the case of Grand Traverse Band, it would have to be on the substantive elements of what is the fundamental value of Algonquians or Ottawas on how you lead a good life and what is the balance in life and the aim of life that you're supposed to be doing. And there is a set of concepts interrelated that are from the tradition of Ottawas and Ojibwes that define what is a good life and what is a bad life. And being sensitive to that in the position of judging disputes in which people are arguing over and sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly over those received values, is important to resolving issues that come before the court."

Ian Record:

"I want to turn back to Grand Traverse Band and the strength and independence that you and others have worked so hard to instill within that justice system that you currently operate. What do you feel -- based on the Grand Traverse experience -- that tribal justice systems need to have in place in order to be strong and independent?"

John Petoskey:

"I know the appropriate answer would probably be an institutional structure that non-Indians are familiar with, but the realistic answer, if you...is you need people that are really bright and focused and from that tradition and that are committed to that tradition. They are people that are...that grew up in the tradition, that bring the intelligence of the tradition to the position and that are committed to that tradition, that is an answer that is sort of off-center, but you need an Indian jurisprudence of values that reflect the community that you're from and the way that those values evolve are from growing up in that community, and that's an ongoing constant process. There's no one set of values that control the evolution of the community. In my own life for example and my wife's life, our parents had a totally different experience from what it was to be Indian in the...they were both born in 1915 and grew up in a period from 1915, died in the "˜80s, their life experience was fundamentally different and their grandparents or their parent's life experience was fundamentally different and they were born in the 1870s and you stretch back. This may be a little far afield, but if you stretch back to my grandparents, who were in the 1870s, and you stretch to my children now who were born in the 1990s, you have 120 years of change that is constantly taking place, but all of them have the same common denominator of coming from the same group of people and going through that change together."

Ian Record:

"So basically what you're saying is that the folks that lead that justice system, if you will, need to be culturally grounded, right?"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"They need to have roots in the community that are not sort of put down overnight, but come from long, sustained involvement in the community, whether it's residence or participation in cultural ceremonies, etc. But just to sort of throw out a scenario to you, so presume for a second that you have all that on the judicial side of the equation and then there's somebody, in your case the executive-legislative side of governance equation that doesn't...is not acting from those values, if you will, and places perhaps unhealthy pressure on the judiciary to act in a certain way, to sort of test that strength and independence of the judicial system. What sort of mechanisms are in place to -- at Grand Traverse -- to ensure the insulation of the judiciary from that sort of unhealthy interference and ensure that it can in fact enact the cultural values, it can actually judge cases based on their merits and mete out justice in a fair and a consistent fashion?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, this is not something that is in place in terms of institutions, but on the executive-legislature side, there are seven councilors and the councilors don't always agree with each other, but they're all from the community and they all have...they all bring their common experience from the community to their positions on the council and they disagree amongst themselves and they recognize that some of those disagreements have to be resolved by the judiciary. And if Councilor A has a position against Councilor B and Councilor A is going to try to influence the judiciary to impermissibly or in some manner that is not straightforward in the procedural process, then Councilor B is going to object to that and Councilor B is going to then use Councilor B's authority within the context of the executive-legislative branch to bring that objection forward. And so it is a self-policing method of checks and balances, of different policy positions on the combined executive-legislative council. And so in that sense, even though the value is consensus of trying to get to a consensus and once the council does arrive at a consensus, it generally goes forward from that position. Arriving at that consensus involves very heated arguments between the individual councilors as to what is the appropriate course of action and if that heated argument or those differences manifest themselves in a dispute in the judiciary then Councilor A's attempt to determine the outcome in the judiciary is going to violate the rights of Councilor B and Councilor B is not going to acquiesce to that and is going to take action against A in the context of the executive-legislative process. That's realistically the way that works. I don't know if you formalize that process in some other method."

Ian Record:

"I guess what about for instance if it's not...if it doesn't involve a difference of opinion with two council members, but say, for instance, I'm a citizen and I feel that for whatever reason that the case before the court needs to be decided in my favor and I call up one of these councilors and say, "˜You need to do what I ask and I voted for you,' kind of thing and this may not be something you're familiar with because it doesn't sound like this is a common occurrence at Grand Traverse. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence in a lot of other tribes that we've worked with. I guess is it sort of values and sort of community norms that prevents a lot of that from taking place or is there something formal within the constitutional framework that Grand Traverse has developed that prevents that sort of thing?"

John Petoskey:

"Within the constitutional framework the judiciary is independent. That's a categorical statement. The hypothetical that you posited has occurred and I am familiar with cases in which tribal members have called up councilors and say, "˜I don't agree with this court's decision because it's wrong,' and the councilors have come back to the council and said, "˜Judge is wrong in this basis, what should we do?' and other councilors say, "˜Well, it's a independent judiciary,' and you get back into the methodology that I was talking about earlier where A and B are arguing over the proper policy. We're lucky in one sense that one of our councilors is a former chief judge on our court and chief judge on other courts in Michigan. So that particular councilor is...has been in the shoes of a judiciary and has been involved in inter-branch fights between the judiciary and the executive-legislature. But we have not had extreme cases at Grand Traverse Band. I can...I don't want to...there have been cases in Michigan in which one where the executive branch and the judicial branch got into such an extreme dispute that the judicial branch ordered the arrest and incarceration of the executive branch, and typically it's the other way around. All of the hypotheticals that you've been positing involve the executive pressuring the judiciary, but in this particular case it was the judiciary that ordered the arrest of the executive over an election dispute where the holdover council was not vacating office and the executive branch was actually arrested and then the petition for habeas corpus was filed in federal district court to release the executive branch, that the judicial order was invalid. So it goes both ways I'm saying."

Ian Record:

"It sounds like at Grand Traverse there's a controlling dynamic within the executive-legislative function where if there is an individual council member who's being pressured by a constituent to interfere in the judicial function that the other council members remind that individual on the council of their role, what their role is and what their role is not. Speaking more broadly, what do you feel is the role of elected leadership in supporting the strength and independence and supporting the growth of justice systems, because for instance at Grand Traverse, your justice system has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 20 years and won an award from Honoring Nations for the incredible work it's been doing and not just building a strong and independent court system, but also making sure that that system is culturally appropriate and reflecting and enacting the values of the people. What do you feel the role of leaders are in supporting the justice function?"

John Petoskey:

"At Grand Traverse Band or in general?"

Ian Record:

"Just in general I think."

John Petoskey:

"Well, my response would be if you look at other systems -- the federal system, the state system -- there have always been disputes over the scope of judicial power in the...in federal court, in federal jurisdiction, what is the appropriate scope of federal jurisdictional power and what is the scope of its ability to resolve disputes. Justice Breyer makes a big point of this if you look at the election dispute between Bush v. Gore, it was a decision that was by the Supreme Court that was widely recognized as invalid in terms of its substantive analysis of the law, but nevertheless the whole country said, once the decision came out, "˜Well, game over,' because there's a strong judicial system and once the decision was rendered, good, bad or indifferent, that's it. Everybody folded their respective tents and went home and George Bush became president when he probably should not have been president on the substantive law basis, but a wrong decision on the merits is still a final decision and the parties respect that. And so you would hope that tribal court systems would evolve to that level of behavior where people would see that finality even for a bad decision. Of course Bush probably didn't think it was a bad decision, but they would evolve to that level of behavior that even for a bad decision, it's the final decision and you go forward. Nobody brought out the Army or guns or anything to enforce Bush v. Gore. The only thing that was done was Scalia saying, "˜Well, this case shouldn't be cited for any other precedent, just for the unique circumstances in George Bush as president.'

And the other cases, Justice Stephens and the other Justices, Stephens in particular, forcefully argued that it was a sad day for the judiciary, but they were arguing on the merits of what the decision was. Nobody was saying, "˜Well, are people going to abide by this? Are they going to follow this decision?' and ultimately that didn't even come up. The values were so engrained that everybody just followed that decision, but that was a hard-fought value because you go back to Brown v. Board of Education. When that came out, you had George Wallace standing at the entrance of a public university screaming, "˜Segregation now! Segregation forever!' saying, "˜I will not move and allow black people into this university,' and tremendous fights, killings, murders, just tremendous pain and suffering for the implementation of the Civil Rights decisions. So when you look at Indian Country, Indian Country is not something that is any different because we're all humans trying to resolve complex disputes and we're using different methodologies to resolve those disputes."

Ian Record:

"And I think it would be important for folks to keep in mind that while a lot of these justice systems are working...tribal justice systems are working to integrate, enact longstanding cultural values, the systems themselves are relatively new in many cases in that these were justice systems that were established in the "˜50s, "˜60s, "˜70s, "˜80s many of them, and it takes a long time in many of those communities for those systems to gain the legitimacy that you're talking about. Your colleague Frank Pommersheim, I had opportunity to interview him and he made the exact same point that the true test of a strong independent judiciary is, 'Do people respect the decision even though they disagree with it, particularly elected leadership?'"

John Petoskey:

"Yes."

Ian Record:

"That's the true test. They may not like the decision, they may not like the outcome but they're not going to blow the place up over the fact that they disagree with it."

John Petoskey:

"Right. That is a good test. And that...and nobody arrives at that without some pain and suffering, and that's why I brought out Brown v. Board of Education. Here you had the Supreme Court saying, "˜Segregation in education is constitutionally impermissible,' and you certainly had southern states saying, "˜It is not and we're not going to allow the decision to be implemented. Impeach Earl Warren.'"

Ian Record:

"So one of the things that in terms of how Native nations and governments and the other branches or functions of government can support tribal judiciaries...one of the things you and I were talking about yesterday was this issue of funding and what we've often heard tribal judges lament about is the fact that, "˜In our tribe the elected leadership treat us like we're just another department when really we serve a fundamental function of any society, which is to resolve disputes, which is to in many instances serve as a check on the abuse of power, the abuse of authority by the other functions of government. How important is it for leaders of nations...of tribal nations to have that mindset that the judicial system is more than just another department of government and fund it accordingly and really place an emphasis on putting the judicial system sort of at the top when it comes to allocating budgetary resources for instance?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, obviously my point is that judicial systems should be funded and the de-funding of judicial systems for political purposes should be categorically impermissible, because today's decision may be something that you support but tomorrow's decision may be something that you oppose and so the funding of judicial decisions based upon past precedent of the courts or decisions that they made shouldn't be in the equation of how you fund the judicial system. The conversation that we had was that I haven't seen any information on the relationship of how you...what the ratio is of the federal government's funding of its judicial system over its total budget, and I'm sure it could be easy to figure out, but I just haven't seen that in print someplace. At Grand Traverse Band, we have a revenue allocation ordinance and we did set up a system of funding the judicial system by a percentage of our income, our net income that we receive from various enterprises, largely gaming. At the time that we passed the RAO [revenue allocation ordinance] it was, I forget the exact number, but it was something like four percent or seven percent is going to go to the judicial system. And just through circumstances of gaming, like a lot of tribes over the last 20 years, the net income of gaming has risen dramatically like a jet taking off into the stratosphere. Those are numbers out there that everybody is family with. So we had this RAO number of four to seven percent that the judicial system received as a direct level of funding that was not to be...it was enacted by the statute and so once our enterprises took off, the amount of money that the judicial system was receiving was extraordinary. It got very high very quickly and because our enterprises were successful."

Ian Record:

"But I would imagine that as your enterprise got successful you're engaged in more commercial dealings, there's more disputes, there's the case load of the court system grows."

John Petoskey:

"Yes, yes, there is that argument, but my point is I haven't seen any good research on how you arrive at the appropriate level of funding for a judicial system. You do have the method of GPRA, of performance-based funding for projected future funding on outcomes with present resources and that's how you do programmatic funding for activities and then you have federal funding where federal priorities come into smaller communities and those are competitive grants that we look at and then you have what are called the self-governance BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs], AFA, annual funding agreements through self-governance taking over certain sections of what is known as the 'green book,' which is the budget book of the Department of Interior for funding and they have a number of formulas that are in that book based on the appropriate level of funding for different activities that the BIA is engaged in in administering an Indian reservation and just in a thumbnail in self governance is a tribe has shown that it can administer those programs just as well as the BIA through no audit exceptions, therefore they get control of that line item in the green book to administer the program or to reallocate to any other function. My point that I was getting to is that I don't see the formula for tribal court funding. Clearly funding should not be a political animal in terms of past decisions or future decisions, but there should be some formula methodology to determine what the appropriate level of funding is."

Ian Record:

"So Grand Traverse, by all accounts, has operated this strong and independent court system for quite a while that it consistently and fairly dispenses justice. What sort of messages do you feel that that sends to outsiders that interact with Grand Traverse in terms of how it does business, how it governs? Do you feel that there's been a positive ripple effect of the way that Grand Traverse dispenses justice that supersedes the reservation boundaries?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, yes. These sound like leading softball questions, but yes. Some of the things that we do at Grand Traverse is what other tribes do and some tribes do it much better than we do. I haven't looked at their site recently, but I know Ho Chunk had a very good site on their judicial opinions and we try to model our site on our judicial opinions. We set up all of our opinions into VersusLaw and into WesLaw and so they're categorized into the WesKey number system. They're available... we try to make them available... before the internet came online we did create a... all of our opinions available in the local law libraries when everybody was using hard copies to do research. We made arrangements with the county law libraries that they would have copies of our code, that they would have copies of all of our opinions that were issued. And then several years ago, it hasn't been updated, but Matthew Fletcher, who a lot of people know in the Indian law world, is a member of Grand Traverse Band and used to work at Grand Traverse Band as an attorney, assistant general counsel for about four years, and after he left he wrote a restatement of Grand Traverse Band's common law based upon all of the opinions published up until that point. And so we direct people to that on a regular basis to tell them, "˜This is the restatement of the common law as of X date. It hasn't been updated, but these are the opinions on a chronological basis that you can find that are available.' Our statutes are published online. We do have a qualified, when I say qualified, it's not as detailed as the Administrative Procedures Act, but we do have a process of legislative enactment in which we publish proposed bills for comment by our tribal members and before enactment and comments come in and the tribal council reacts to those comments either accepting or rejecting, and making appropriate decisions based on the comments and some bills as a result of that comment process have taken a long time to get through to enactment because some of the issues are extremely contentious internally with the tribe over the appropriate standard that the bill is implementing on the standard of behavior.

So I think the common denominator of what I just said is transparency throughout the whole process. Transparency throughout the judicial process in terms of the court publishing its opinions, making them widely available to individuals, the transparency of legislative acts being widely apparent to individuals. Grand Traverse Band is now going for its executive-legislative function to publish their proceedings online so that people who are tribal members...and this is an open question on whether non-members would be able to access it, but clearly tribal members would be able to, citizen members would be able to access council meetings to review what took place in the meeting and the process and procedures that were utilized in the meetings. There's discussions right now of doing the same thing for court proceedings that... of tribal court TV, if you will, to make transparency as the same value. So I think the value of transparency is something that is accepted by the majority of the participants in the political process and that has enormous benefits in a cultural norm of checks and balances, if you will, because everybody knows that everything is subject to review and all arguments are...can be developed after the fact, too, because you can look at something or you can be involved in this conversation that we're having right now, it's being recorded and later on I may be sitting at home thinking, "˜God, I should have said that or I should have said this,' and other people will have that same reaction."

Ian Record:

"Doesn't it all boil down to, when it comes down to transparency and the different ways that Grand Traverse is seeking to achieve that, is people who interface with the government, whether it's citizens of the Band or outsiders who may be dealing with the tribe commercially or may live within the community on allotment land or whatever it might be, that they understand not only the decisions that have been made, they're aware of the decisions that are being contemplated, but most importantly they're...they understand the rationale underlying the decision-making process. What is the common law that's driving this or what are the values that's driving this? Is that really at the crux of the whole thing?"

John Petoskey:

"The crux of the whole thing is not to have an indeterminate process; it's to have a determinate process that participants can enter the process at various points and figure out what happened, why it happened, what the future decision is going to be, what the arguments for and against it can be and an indeterminate process, what I see is a situation where the participants and the people who have to suffer the consequences of the decision don't know why something happened or what's going to happen in the future because there's no agreed upon procedure statutorily or there's no agreed upon cultural norm of transparency. And so it makes for an indeterminate future and an indeterminate past because the rationale for some of the decisions in the past were arbitrary, and these are words that are used in administrative law, but are arbitrary and capricious and they're not subject to analysis because they're indeterminate. And so I think the value that Grand Traverse Band is trying to achieve is a process of determinate decision making in its executive-legislative and judicial process, where participants in the process and the people who are subject to the process either as citizens or non-citizens can understand what occurred, why it occurred, and what will occur in the future."

Ian Record:

"So I wanted to wrap up with a few questions that get into a little bit more detail about Grand Traverse Band's approach to jurisprudence. We've been touching again and again on this issue of cultural values, common law, common tribal law and I'm curious, several years ago the Grand Traverse Band formally integrated the peacemaking approach to dispute resolution into its justice system. Can you talk about how that came about, what was the impetus, what does it look like, how does it work?"

John Petoskey:

"Well, the value of the peacemaking court...first of all, I want to acknowledge that Navajo Nation started with peacemaking court and I'm not familiar with the full scope of that, but I know that they had a peacemaking court long before other tribes did and brought in their values and cultural tradition to the resolutions of disputes that were involved on family relations. And at that time, our chief judge, his name is Mike Petoskey, he's not my brother, we're often confused because we're close in age and look alike. He is my first cousin. He was our tribal judge and had been our tribal chief judge for about 15 years and he was familiar with a lot of Navajo judges because he went to law school at the University of New Mexico and he had a common experience with some of these judges based upon their military experience in Vietnam and similar life experience even though these people were from the interior of Navajo, Lukachukai. So it was Ray Austin that he was a good friend with. I think Ray has published a book on the Navajo judicial systems. And Mike and Ray had been friends for many years, well, going to law school and had a common denominator even though they were widely geographically dispersed and culturally dispersed, one being Ottawa and one being Navajo. And so Mike was dealing with the types of problems that come up in Indian communities that are families-in-crisis problems and part of the way of resolving those problems in the non-Indian society under child abuse and neglect and families in need of supervision under the state model, if you look at their codes, are very destructive to the individual family unit because the resolution is, "˜This is not going to work so we're going to terminate the parental rights. We want to take the child away. We're going to sanction the parent and the family is dispersed.' I'm not saying that across the board, but that is one model that the family law in non-Indian society uses to resolve families in crisis and that may work if you have a larger group that you're...of people that you're dealing with and larger resources. But the tribe didn't have the larger resources and the group that it's dealing with is a common core of people that are related to each other across time and terminating and dispersing the family is not something that is...that the tribe wants to do, because a lot of the historical experience of the tribal members is suffering the state system of termination and dispersal of the family and then slowly finding your way back to the community. And so an alternative is to try to fix the destructive family patterns that exist within the family in question or whatever family it is. I don't have any family in question, I'm just saying this is how or what the situations that came up and the way to do that is to bring in other members of the extended family into a whole process of saying, "˜Well, what is the problem and why are you behaving in this manner that creates destructive consequences for your children or destructive consequences for your husband or wife or for your mother or father or for your aunts and uncles?' The behavior of one individual has a ripple effect like the stone in the pond that goes out into the whole community. And so the concept of peacemaking is to recognize that and to bring all of the people in the pond, if you will, that feel that ripple effect into the process to resolve that stone and to engage in dialogue, and there is a value within the Ottawa and Ojibwe tradition that all of our inter-family relationships are really community-based relationships and extend out to everybody and that a resolution of those community-based relationships of necessity involves all of these people that it extends out to because your actions today do not just impact your nuclear family, your husband, wife, mother, daughter. They also impact your aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and so bringing that whole group together or the principles within that group to work on the solution for that behavior is better than viewing it as a nuclear unit of a family, husband, wife, children and that's it and that as the scope of what the community was that had to be fixed. And the peacemaking court was to say, if you look at the larger community which everybody is impacted by this behavior and you try to bring the larger community into that process with the individual that is misbehaving, if you will, and saying, "˜This is what your behavior is causing to the whole community and we are here to help you to resolve that behavior,' and to bring the person back into the community by explaining what the impacts of their behavior has on the whole community. That's the fundamental concept. There's a long Indian word that I can't pronounce that my wife [Eva Petoskey] can, and so you might bring that up with her, and she has a better grasp of the language than I do."

Ian Record:

"So how in your estimation has it worked out so far, the use of peacemaking for Grand Traverse?"

John Petoskey:

"It's worked out well because it...there are a lot of people in Indian Country that are in pain and suffering for a variety of...this is sort of a leftist orientation, but of historical trauma, of what your parents and grandparents went through and so that has an impact on your present life and when I was talking about just looking at my own life, I'm 61 years old and I can look back to see my grandparents who I knew were born in the 1870s and there's been tremendous change from where my children are right now who were born in the 1990s and are in graduate school in college and going through different changes of their own, but we're all connected to this one place and we're all from this one place and we all grew up there. But the change is constant and for Grand Traverse Band since 1980 in the scale of things change has been positive for the community. The community has reasserted its traditions and reasserted its control over its community and when it lost its control over its community it lost control over its traditions because we weren't directing our lives, we were being directed by other people and so directing our lives even if it's in an impaired and fractured community is a process of healing that community and so that peacemaking court in the method that I just described is a process of resolving a lot of disputes that are very, very difficult and very difficult to resolve and that take a lot of time. It's not ever going to be perfect and it's not ever going to be over, it's always going to change."

Ian Record:

"As a final question, what I'm struck by in hearing you and others talk about the peacemaking approach is that often the western adversarial system, which is focused on punitive measures tends to focus on the symptom, which is the misbehavior whereas, peacemaking really seeks to get at the root cause of what's driving this behavior and sort of...and attacking that root cause to prevent that from happening again rather than punishing someone for what has already happened. Is that basically how it works?"

John Petoskey:

"I would say yes, but again I would say my wife has a better handle on that, but it's bringing in the community and the impacts on the community and saying to the individual, "˜You should have empathy and compassion for the acts that you're doing and the impacts on people that you have relationships with, long-term relationships with.' Sometimes they're loving relationships, sometimes they're not loving relationships, they're stressful relationships, but the point is everybody has a consequence for their behavior and those consequences are felt by the whole community and it's trying to say to the individual, "˜Your behavior affects the whole community and the whole community is here to try to tell you that to change your behavior so those consequences don't impact us,' because they do."

Ian Record:

"Well, John, we really appreciate you agreeing to serve as a fellow with the Native Nations Institute and agreeing to sit down with us today and sharing your thoughts, experience and wisdom with us. And this is part one of a two-part interview. We'll be interviewing you again this week in more detail about some of the work you've done in terms of developing Grand Traverse's legal infrastructure and I'd like to thank you for your time today. And that's all the time we have on today's program of Leading Native Nations. To learn more about Leading Native Nations, please visit the Native Nations Institute's website at nni.arizona.edu. Thank you for joining us. Copyright 2013 Arizona Board of Regents."

Related Resources

Thumbnail or cover image
Grand Traverse Band Tribal Court

Constitutionally separated from the political influences of government, the Tribal Court hears more than 500 cases per year, and utilizes "peacemaking" to mediate in cases in which dispute resolution is preferred to an adversarial approach. The Court adjudicates on such issues as child abuse,…

Thumbnail or cover image
Grand Traverse Band's Land Claims Distribution Trust Fund

After 26 years of negotiation with the US government over how monies from a land claims settlement would be distributed, the Band assumed financial control over the settlement by creating a Trust Fund system that provides annual payments in perpetuity to Band elders for supplementing their social…

Thumbnail or cover image
Grand Traverse Band Planning and Development

Faced with a growing land base and an increasing number of visitors to the reservation, the Grand Traverse Band Tribal Council established the Planning and Development Department in 1997 to build capacity within the community to accommodate new needs. The Department addressed its challenge by…