In this Article, Professor Donna Coker employs original empirical research to investigate the use of Navajo Peacemaking in cases involving domestic violence. Her analysis includes an examination of Navajo women's status and the impact of internal colonization. Many advocates for battered women worry that informal adjudication methods such as Peacemaking ignore domestic hierarchies of power and thus facilitate the batterer's ongoing violence against the victim. Those who endorse the use of Navajo Peacemaking and other systems of restorative justice believe that such processes are better equipped to cut through the batterer's denial and victim blaming and are more likely to marshal resources for the victim than are formal methods of adjudication. Coker argues that both formal and informal methods of adjudication should be assessed for the likelihood that they will realize change in the material and social conditions that foster battering. Coker's study of Peacemaking finds that it may be autonomy enhancing for some battered women because it effectuates such change. Peacemakers may disrupt social and familial supports for battering through confrontations with both the batterer and his family. Women's material resources may be improved through nalyeeh (reparations) from the abuser's family and through connections to community social services. Peacemakers use traditional Navajo stories with gender antisubordination themes that may change the way in which the batterer and hisfamily understand the batterer's relationship with the victim. Further, unlike the normative practices of many legal and social service organizations, Peacemaking may avoid the cultural and legal focus on the necessity of a woman's commitment to separating from her abuser. Similarly, peacemakers do not discount women's various competing loyalties and thus do not demand that women choosetheir identity as "battered woman" over that of other competing identities. Further, Peacemaking avoids the "responsibility versus description dichotomy" of Angloadjudication by creating a forum in which the oppressive systems that impact the life of the batterer, including systems of racism and colonization, are recognized without minimizing the harm done the battered woman and without blaming herfor the batterer's violence. While Peacemaking offers benefits for some battered women, Coker warns that Peacemaking also presents problems: Some women are coerced into participation, agreements are difficult to enforce, and some peacemakers have a promarriage bias that discourages separation. Coker concludes by suggesting an informal adjudication method that draws on the strengths of Peacemaking but that corrects for the coercion problems and strengthens antimisogynist norms. In an Appendix, Coker discusses the limitations of her empirical work that concern the generalizability of her findings (the "empiricism problem")and the difficulties of crosscultural study (the "imperialism problem").
Donna K. Coker, Enhancing Autonomy for Battered Women: Lessons from Navajo Peacemaking, 47 UCLA L. Rev. 1 (1999).