The Role of Law in the Navajo Nation Since the Treaty of 1868

Mr. Paul Spruhan, J.D.

Paul Spruhan, Keynote

Overview: What is the role of law in Navajo society since 1868? The Treaty created the original Navajo Reservation, and the Nation’s political territory has expanded significantly since that time. The Nation’s legal system has evolved since the Treaty as well, to a government split between three branches and a robust court system, though with no organic document like a constitution to define the roles of the three Branches. This structure co-exists with traditional legal principles originating from the Journey Narrative and other sources. This presentation will discuss how law affects, or not, Navajo society, and will reflect on a non-Navajo attorney’s experience in the current Navajo legal system. Ultimately, the presentation will discuss how Navajos can continue to develop a Navajo-specific legal system, and how education on that legal system in the Nation’s schools can inform the Navajo populace on how the law affects their daily lives.

Biography: Paul Spruhan is Assistant Attorney General of the Litigation Unit at the Navajo Nation Department of Justice in Window Rock, Arizona. He received his A.B. in 1995 and his A.M. in 1996 from the University of Chicago. He received his J.D. in 2000 from the University of New Mexico. He has several Indian law articles published in law reviews, including A Legal History of Blood Quantum in Federal Indian Law to 1935, 51 South Dakota Law Review 1 (2006). His latest article, CDIB: The Role of the Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood in Defining Native American Identity, was published by the American Indian Law Journal in May, 2018. He also teaches Indian law topics for Barbri, Inc. and the Tulsa Law School Masters of Jurisprudence in Indian Law Program. He and his wife, Bidtah Becker, have two children and live in Fort Defiance on the Navajo Nation.