Navajo Nation Supreme Court Justices
by the Harvard Law School

List of Justices
Honorable Robert Yazzie
Honorable Irene M. Toledo
Justice Raymond D. Austin


Honorable Robert Yazzie
Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation

In 1992, Robert Yazzie was appointed by the Navajo Nation Council as the Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation. Chief Justice Yazzie, a law school-trained judge, has been on the bench for nine years. He earned a B.A. in Sociology from Oberlin College in Ohio and went on to continue his education at Mesa Community College and Harvard University. He was born in 1947 in Rehoboth, New Mexico, and grew up with traditional values. He has not forgotten his obligation of sharing traditional values and continues to implement the Navajo philosophy in the Navajo Nation Courts.

Yazzie is a formidable leader in the Navajo campaign against the pain of domestic violence. He is a strong advocate for victims' rights.

Since his appointment as Chief Justice in 1992, Yazzie has been quite successful in developing court rules and has also initiated a sentencing commission. The Navajo Nation Peacemaker Division has been expanded under Yazzie. The Navajo Nation Judicial Branch has received a BIA grant to hire community organizers and liaisons to appointment peacemakers, also known as a "Naa'taanii," in each of the 110 chapters located within the Navajo Nation. In addition, Yazzie has acquired funds appropriated by the Navajo Nation Council for the peacemaking program. He has directed grassroots organizing and community education efforts to widen the participation of local leaders in the program. Peacemaking has proven to be quite successful in handling domestic violence, including juvenile delinquency, through funding from the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Programs.

In October 1992, the Navajo Nation Courts promulgated domestic violence court rules. Rules are simple procedures, in criminal and civil proceedings, for victims to obtain relief. They integrate Navajo common law and American common law concepts. The rules were developed through careful research of the extent of Navajo courts' powers under common law and equity.

Yazzie has also created a sentencing commission, composed of Navajo Nation trial judges. The commission has established a sentencing plan which requires and presumes that in criminal cases the victim will receive relief under a Navajo common law principle and will also be made whole for his or her injuries. It also allows a judge to consider probation and parole officers' recommendation to avoid future injury to the victim.

Yazzie is a leader of great strength. He is making the judicial system of the Navajo Nation be more responsive to crime victims.

Yazzie is known internationally. He has gone to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji to compare Navajo peacemaking with the traditional procedures of those jurisdictions; he has participated in United Nations proceedings in Geneva, Switzerland, on the proposed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples; he has discussed Saami rights under international law in Norway; and he is a frequent visitor to Canada to discuss traditional Indian law and court policy. He is also well known in the United States, and has been asked to present Navajo perspectives of religion and law, traditional law, restorative justice, and community justice.

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Honorable Irene M. Toledo
Associate Justice Designate
Family Court Judge of the Navajo Nation

In 1989, Judge Irene Toledo was appointed by the Navajo Nation Council as a Trial Court Judge and has been presiding on the bench for nine years. Prior to being appointed as a Trial Judge, she was a tribal court advocate with DNA-People's Legal Services for ten years. Her representations involved Criminal, Civil, Family, and Administrative Law, in State, Federal, and Tribal Courts.

Since her appointment as Trial Court Judge, she has been actively involved with various legal organizations involving every aspect of tribal, state, and federal law. In 1992 and 1993 she served as an advisory board member on a newly developed project sponsored by the Education Development Center, Inc., of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Counsel, and the Massachusetts Office of Victims' Assistance, which developed "A Model Protocol and Training Curriculum to Improve the Treatment of Victims of Bias Crime." This was submitted as a "1992 Program" to the Office for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C.

In 1994 she was appointed to the National American Indian CourtJudges Association as a member of the Board of Directors and Board Secretary. She is presently attempting to develop and improve funding for all tribal courts and to educate tribal court judges and advocates.

In 1997 she was appointed to participate as an advisory for the Judicial Focus Group on victims' issues, which reviewed and made specific recommendations to the 1982 Presidential Task Force on Victims of Crime and the Attorney General's Task Force on Family Violence. The advisory made recommendations on how the judiciary can make the criminal justice system more fair and humane for all participants, including crime victims. A final report of the recommendations is being drafted and will be included for the final implementation in the judicial system nationwide.

Since 1994 Toledo has provided assistance to the National Indian Justice Center in Petaluma, California, in training participants in the areas of Civil, Criminal and Family Law. She serves on the National Advisory Committee in the development of a Judicial Benchbook for the "Domestic Violence and the Consideration of Cultural Factors in Criminal and Civil Court Cases," which is sponsored by the non-profit Family Violence Prevention Program of San Francisco.

Through various and diverse endeavors, Toledo is creating awareness in the areas of victims of crime and domestic violence; she is developing and enhancing all tribal courts; she is working to have effective participation in national and local development of laws; and she is interacting with state and federal judicial system in understanding that crimes committed should not be categorized by color, creed or race. She is also active in establishing a working relationship with the judicial systems of surrounding states (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah). She has been conducting training and serving as guest speaker to various entities concerned with the area of domestic violence, i.e., police personnel, state court judges, and other Indian tribal judges.

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Justice Raymond D. Austin

Justice Raymond D. Austin is an enrolled member of the Navajo Tribe of Indians. He was born on the Arizona side of the Navajo Nation and is a Vietnam era veteran of the United States Army.

Austin earned his B.S. degree in psychology from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in 1979 and his Juris Doctorate from the University of New Mexico Law School, Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1983.

He has served as staff attorney with the Navajo-Hopi Legal Services Program in Tuba City, Arizona. He was appointed to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court in October of 1985 and has served as judge pro tempore on the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division I, during fall 1993 and spring 1994.

Austin served as the Herman Phleger Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law at the Stanford Law School in the Spring 1995. He has also lectured and taught short courses at the Arizona State University College of Law and the University of Utah College of Law. He has lectured on Indian law and tribal law and judicial systems to members of the state bars of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico and to other legal associations.

Austin is a member of the Navajo Nation Bar Association and the state bars of Arizona and Utah. He is also a past member of the board of directors for the National Indian Justice Center, National American Indian Judges' Association, and the Advisory Council on Indian Legal Programs at the Arizona State University College of Law.

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