University of Arizona
NNI | Harvard Project | Udall Foundation |


COURSE: Justice Systems

Native Nation Building: An Introduction
Remaking the Tools of Governance
Justice Systems: Moving Your Nation Forward

Course Instructors:

Dr. Manley Begay, Faculty Chair, Native Nations Institute
Dr. Stephen Cornell, Faculty Associate, Native Nations Institute
Robert A. Williams, Jr., E. Thomas Sullivan Professor of Law and American Indian Studies
and Director of the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program, University of Arizona

Estimated Learning Time: 15 to 18 hours
Deadline to Complete Course: Nine (9) weeks from date of enrollment
Price: $225.00

Course Study Guide

This course provides a general overview of Native nation justice systems and demonstrates their importance to the process of nation building. Native justice systems encompass a wide range of related institutions, such as courts, law enforcement, and treatment facilities. These systems are critical to Native nations for everything from making and implementing decisions to attracting economic development to enacting and protecting tribal sovereignty. Featuring the firsthand perspectives of more than 60 Native leaders and scholars, it presents several case studies of Native nations who have successfully rebuilt their justice systems.

List of Native Leaders and Scholars


By the end of this course, students will understand:

Native Nation Building

  • The basic political and socioeconomic challenges facing Native nations today
  • Why the Standard Approach is a failed recipe for successful Native nation building
  • The five components of the Nation-Building Approach and why Native nations who choose this approach are better able to achieve their development goals

Remaking Governance

  • What governance is, and why it is important
  • The relationship – and differences – between self-determination and governance, and the challenges they present
  • The breadth and diversity of traditional Indigenous governance systems
  • How colonial policies impacted Indigenous governance and governments, and the contemporary legacies of those policies
  • The fundamental difference between self-administration and self-governance
  • How Native nations are remaking their tools of governance

Justice Systems

  • What tribal justice systems are, and why they are important
  • How colonial policies impacted Indigenous justice systems, and the contemporary legacies of those policies
  • The significance of having independent dispute resolution mechanisms
  • The breadth and diversity of traditional Indigenous justice systems
  • How Native nations are remaking their justice systems so that they align with cultural values


Native Nation Building

  1. What is nation building? 

  2. What explains the success that some Native nations have had in building sustainable, self-determined economies? 

  3. What are the fundamental differences between the Standard Approach and the Nation-Building Approach, and why does one work so much better than the other? 

  4. Why are capable governing institutions so critical to successful nation building? 

  5. What role does and should culture play in rebuilding Native nations?

Remaking Governance

  1. What is the relationship between self-determination and governance?
  2. What is governance? How is it different from government?
  3. Where does governance fit in the life of your nation?
  4. What impacts did colonialism have on Indigenous governance systems?
  5. How and why are Native nations reclaiming and remaking those systems?
  6. Where does governmental legitimacy come from? How do Native nations achieve it?
  7. Does the present design of your Native nation's government provide adequate tools for meeting the challenges the nation faces?
  8. If not, what steps should the nation take to equip itself with more effective governing tools?

Justice Systems

  1. What are the key components of a Native nation's justice system?
  2. How does a justice system define and enforce a Native nation's laws?
  3. What did Indigenous justice systems look like in pre-colonial times? What forms did they take?
  4. How did colonialism impact those systems?
  5. How are Native nations remaking their justice systems to effectively resolve disputes? Maintain law and order? Align with cultural values? Why are these efforts so important?
  6. What role does a justice system play in protecting, strengthening and expanding a Native nation's sovereignty?
  7. Why is it important that justice systems be strong and independent? What do strong and independent justice systems require?

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Native Leaders and Scholars:
Justice Systems, Sovereignty, and Nation Building