Monthly Archives: June 2012

Peacemaking: How Native American Elders Use Tradition to Support Offender Reintegration

During a visit by the Tribal Justice Exchange to the Confederated
Tribes of the Colville Reservation
in Washington State, Robert V. Wolf talks with two elders–Matthew Dick
Jr. and Darlene Wilder–and a client about peacemaking, a traditional Native American approach to resolving both
criminal and civil issues. May 2012


ROB WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. In this
New Thinking podcast, the focus is on peacemaking, the traditional Native American approach to resolving both criminal
and civil issues. Peacemaking focuses on repairing harm. In a peacemaking session, an offender might meet with a
group of elders who will talk about how the offender can make restitution and get his or her life back on track.
The Center for Court Innovation’s tribal justice exchange is in the process of exploring the creation of a pilot
peacemaking project in state court. I was lucky enough to join two of my colleagues on a visit to the Confederated
Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington State, where we had a chance to see a peacemaking session firsthand.
After that session, I recorded the following interview with two elders and a client about their personal take on
the peacemaking process.

ROB WOLF: With me are Matthew Dick, Jr., and elder and peacemaker, and
Darlene Wilder, also an elder and a peacemaker, and then Brad, who is a 29-year-old client who has participated in
peacemaking. So I’ll direct this to the elders here. If someone says to you, gosh what is peacemaking? How do
you explain it to someone? Matthew?

MATTHEW DICK, JR: From my perspective, peacemaking has been
in our culture forever. It’s just that we haven’t practiced it for a long time and peacemaking is the ability
to live together with a lot of people, like our tribes did a long time ago in harmony.

Darlene? Take it from there.

DARLENE WILDER: I never really thought about it so much of what it
is, but how it’s done. And I think aboriginally or traditionally we did it in our family units, and predominantly
with what was called a talking circle, where you gather like we did earlier today and you just went around and spoke
about whatever it is that you needed to discuss or resolve, or question that had more than one point of view that
needed to be heard. And I was just recollecting, we kind of celebrated a birthday, but I went around and each one
of them, I had all of those around that circle talk about something in their lifetime, an experience that they had,
that they would like somebody else to have because they learned something from it, or an experience that they would
caution no one to have because they learned something from it. So that way even the smallest child who could speak
is able to relate to that. Some of it might just be a scary dream, they’d wake up and think there’s something
under the bed or whatever, and they’d go look under the bed and there really isn’t anything there. So that’s
how I think a long time ago our family probably did this peacemaking. We would talk about what our experience was
and how we could benefit others by that experience. To me, that’s what peacemaking is, where we can share whatever
it is we’ve had in our life, with someone who is seeking more information that they don’t have or never
had the opportunity for that.

ROB WOLF: And so in the context of peacemaking here in Colville
now, you’re using those same principles you’ve just described in situations involving offending, and I
wonder how that goes. I’ll ask Brad in a minute about his experience, but I don’t know if Matthew wanted
to say anything about taking what Darlene described and putting it into this setting where you’re working with
someone who maybe has committed a serious crime, or some sort of crime.

what the traditions that Darlene was talking about is some of the rights of passage of our people a long time ago,
their transition from being a child to a teenager and to an adult, and that’s one of the things, some of the
things that at least the peacemaker circle that I’ve been involved in, is that we try to bring those kinds of
traditions back up and talk about them, and explain why they were so important. And it’s so amazing the reception
that we get from the people that have been involved with us, because when I was 29 years old, I would have never
thought to sit down with my elders and try to learn something. I was one of those kids that knew it all and I was
bullet proof. Once you begin to learn about those traditions that have made the Native Americans such a strong people,
that have lasted through all these traumatic events that I was talking about in there, how they stood us in good
stead to bring us through all that.  We’re trying to revive those traditions, those teachings, the
way of life, the culture back up to so at least our young people are going to be recipients of what we remember.

ROB WOLF: Brad, I wonder if you could explain how you came into contact with peacemaking circle, and why
you decided to participate?

BRAD: The first time I heard about peacemaker circle I was actually
in corrections, didn’t know nothing about it and this was just last November. They asked me if I wanted to do
it and I said, yeah. And then so they released me from custody and told me I had to be at the center and I was gonna
meet with these elders. I didn’t know anything about it or anything, but those first couple sessions they really
touched me, and my whole outlook on peacemaker circle, you know it changed and just having them elders and stuff
tell you.

ROB WOLF: What do you remember? Like, what touched you?

BRAD: Mostly
it was their stories relating to my problems, but normally that, the problems I did say I had, they was guiding me
through it and helping me out, and trying to figure out how to fix it and stuff, and it’s just that guidance.
That’s what being an elder is, is you’re in that position to pass on the wisdom and the teachings, and
what you learned, and pass that on to the little ones, so they have it so they can pass it on. That’s what I’ve
been taught.

ROB WOLF: Are they giving you things that you hadn’t found previously in your
life, and teaching you things you hadn’t known much about?

BRAD: Yes. Most of the old people
where I’m from, I don’t see. I know they’re old, but I don’t see them as elders. A lot of them
are still drinking and not passing on what they’ve been taught. So it kind of sounds mean, but my understanding
is that it’s just an old person. I mean there’s that respect there, still, but you know, they’re not
deemed my elder. I mean do you guys feel that way?

DARLENE WILDER: When I was finishing high school
and going on to after high school, and after about four years my dad figured out that I was getting an education
to be a teacher, and I don’t think he really wanted me to be a teacher. I don’t know what he wanted me
to do. I think he wanted me to be a secretary in the legal system because I had a good memory. And at that point,
you know he probably gave me his best words of wisdom, personally, and he goes you can’t teach what you don’t
got. And I thought, wow, isn’t that the truth. I mean, I’m gonna be a teacher? What do I have that I can teach?
And then it really, you know, put the weight there and made me think, when I do I really have got to know what it
is I’m going to be doing. So he said the right things for me, as far as putting me in my spot, my place. But
he was good about that, I mean he – and I guess I would have considered him an elder because I still think back on
a lot of things he shared with me.

ROB WOLF: So it sounds like the same applies to an elder—that
you can’t pass on what you don’t have, snd so that an elder is someone who has some life experience to
pass on. I mean, does that sound accurate?

DARLENE WILDER: And willing to do it. Not just, like
you said, they may have that knowledge, but maybe they don’t have the setting or the circumstances to do that,
and the peacemaking is allowing that to happen here.

MATTHEW DICK, JR: And it’s changed so
much since our parents were young ones growing up, because the people back then didn’t consider themselves elders,
but they would sit around and talk and they would do things, and you were expected to sit there and listen to them
talk, and observe what they were doing. That’s how you learned back then. And they never did consider themselves
teachers back then either, but they conveyed a lot of wisdom to the people as they were growing up. And I know my
mother tried to do that with me, but like I said I knew everything so I didn’t listen too much. The people nowadays,
even though they’re older, they—most of them don’t think they really have anything to offer, and if they
sat down with the elders here—and we need elders, we need them to start participating—if they sat down and just start
talking about those things that they remembered, that’s the teaching on its own. That’s the kind of teaching
that our people used to do a long time ago. And we are really in desperate need of male elders because we have 100
ladies that come to these things, and we’ve got four or five men that come to them.

So maybe, tell me a little bit about how Brad—what you’ve seen in him, the progress he’s made because you
know, I’d heard you talking about it before. I wonder if you want to share some of that.

WILDER: When he came to the peacemaking circle, it wasn’t like I’ll fill in my application, turn it in,
and I’ll be in the peacemaking circle. He had to come to one of our monthly meetings when there was, what, 30,
40 of us elders there, and then they had to present. He wasn’t the only one there. There were others that came,
that had to present why they were seeking peacemaking circle. And at that point I saw Brad scared and nervous, and
when he was a little kid he might have been scared and nervous, but he never acted it the way I saw him acting at
that point, because it was more defensive and defiant, and there was no defensiveness and no defiance, and it was
just, I am a pitiful person and I need help. And that’s a lot of how we begin our prayers, is to the creator
that I’m just a pitiful person and I need your help. And that’s what I saw in Brad at that first peacemaking
circle. And since then he’s finally wearing that he has to pity himself because if you don’t pity yourself
you’re not gonna admit your faults and weaknesses. And we all have faults and weaknesses and we’ve got
to go fess up to them, and accept them, and go on. If we can’t accept them then it’s hard to go on.

ROB WOLF: I want to thank you all for sharing with me and people who are listening, your experience as peacemakers
and your experience in the peacemaking circle. I’ve been speaking with Brad, who’s been a participant in
a peacemaking circle, a client, and Darlene Wilder, and Matthew Dick, Jr., both of whom are peacemakers and elders
on the Colville Reservation. I’m Rob Wolf, director of communications at the Center for Court Innovation. For
more information about the Center you can visit our website at Thanks for listening.