Liberation Education Action Research Network/LEARN
Indigenous Knowledge: Education for the Non-Native Teacher and Student
June Terpstra, Ph.D.
Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people. This cultural obliteration is made possible by the negation of national reality, by new legal relations introduced by the occupying power, by the banishment of the natives and their customs to outlying districts by colonial society, by expropriation, and by the systematic enslaving of men and women.
This essay briefly reviews theories and methods of Frantz Fanon and Paolo Freire concerning the damaging affects of colonialism, globalization, and racism as foundational to social justice pedagogy and praxis when teaching Indigenous students. Specifically, I focus on students from native sovereign nations within the US and Canada using an Indigenous framework provided by Professor Valerian Three Irons at the 14th Annual Native American Studies Conference.
Frantz Fanon and Paolo Freire identified ways in which dominant conceptions and practices of knowledge attribution, acquisition, and justification systematically oppress and disadvantage colonized people. Conceptions of objectivity traditionally identify objectivity with a single point of view that dismisses all other points of view as false or biased. These claims of objectivity consistently benefit specific power holder interests. (Terpstra, 2005) The methods described in this essay demonstrate three basic assumptions in education: (1) education and research are not neutral; (2) society can be transformed by the engagement of politically conscious persons; and (3) praxis (theory informed by action) connects education for self-determination with social transformation. Fanon and Freire demonstrated how dominant knowledge practices disadvantage colonized people by (1) excluding them from inquiry, (2) denying them epistemic authority, (3) denigrating their cognitive styles and modes of knowledge, (4) producing theories that represent them as inferior, deviant, or significant only in the ways they serve elite interests, (5) producing theories of social phenomena that render their activities and interests, or power relations, invisible, and (6) producing knowledge (science and technology) that reinforces subjugation, exploitation and other social and economic hierarchies.
Colonialism rests on the possibility of taking advantage of the differential in power between countries. It involves violent subjugation, and historically displacement or extermination of native peoples. Imperialism, sometimes referred to as the last stage of capitalism, is the domination by one country or group of the political, economic, or cultural life of another country or region. The US is the center of imperialism through the globalization of capital and the militarization of hegemonic control of that capital.
Presently, faculty may find in a class Indigenous students working for the US military and Indigenous students living in sovereign nations known as reservations that are controlled by the US or Canada through federal law. This presents a challenging opportunity to all faculty and students. Many instructors and non-Indigenous students are not accustomed to hearing the alternative epistemic voices of students from traditional, neo-traditional, bi-cultural and assimilated Indigenous world- views.
According to Hans Georg Gadamer our past influences “everything we want, hope for, and fear in the future” and only as we are “possessed” by our past are we “opened to the new, the different and the true” (Gadamer 1976). Yet university-based pedagogy has been slow to acknowledge the legitimacy and importance of personal history as a way of understanding the adult educator’s world (Renner 2002). In order to understand the knowledge that Indigenous students bring to our classes we must acknowledge the past and present influences of colonization, racism, and the people of sovereign nations within the borders of the US and Canada.
Frantz Fanon was a psychiatrist and revolutionary, originally from Martinique, who became active in the Algerian revolution against French colonialism. His work was a guide for many liberation movements of the 1960’s including the Black Panthers in the USA. He was a powerful theoretician who championed independence and self-determination for all of Africa through the overthrow of colonialism. His most famous books, “Black Skin White Masks” and “The Wretched of the Earth”, described in detail the interior oppression of the colonized after his own experience as a colonized black man.
His theory of internal colonialism attempts to expose, analyze and critique the history of European racism. It explains the oppression of Africans and other people of color across the globe as internalized colonies, and includes a strategy for the elimination of colonialism and racism by overcoming the binary system in which red, yellow, black and brown are bad and white is good. Fanon argued that an entirely new world must come into being.
Fanon explained how European expansionism in it's various forms---expropriation, slavery, colonialism, settlement---brings race into existence as a global social reality. Hence, the construction of formal ontological patterning in the population of the planet, signified by race through colonialism. There is a pervasive social construction, a set of positions in a global structure, for which race will be an assigned category that influences the socialization one receives, the life world in which one moves, the experiences one has, and the view one develops. This white colonial supremacy so structured the world as to have negative ramifications for every sphere of life for the Indigenous---juridical standing, moral status, personal racial identity, epistemic reliability, existential plight, political inclusion, social metaphysics, sexual relations, and aesthetic worth.
Fanon concretely demonstrated how Europeans intentionally replaced indigenous systems and came to dominate colonial and post colonial societies. Western science was used to construct the notion of race, which was used to construct the notion of the Indigenous as inferior. Western science went one step further than cultural racism to assume universality for its worldviews. As a standard part of colonization, the European scientific paradigm was introduced as the only valid system of knowledge.
The paradox of liberal imperialism in the classroom is that human dignity is often promoted in Western academic discourse to be rooted in the universal human capacity for reason. Yet when students attempt to describe and advocate their unique cultural practices that are unfamiliar or disturbing to the US or European student they appear irrational and thus undeserving of recognition and respect. There are infinite varieties of solutions to the challenges posed by human existence. Our first task with Indigenous and non-Indigenous students is to decode colonialism, racism and cultural imperialism and welcome the epistemic voices of Indigenous students.
Brazilian educator Paulo Freire also understood oppression from first hand experience and was influenced by emancipating methodologies in Latin America. His life and work as an educator was full of hope in spite of poverty, imprisonment, and exile. He was a world leader in the struggle for the liberation of the poor and a great teacher to many who are teaching using the model he developed. Paulo Freire worked to instill the strengths and skills necessary for men and women living in poverty to overcome their sense of powerlessness to act in their own behalf. Freire said, I do research so as to know what I do not yet know and to communicate and proclaim what I discover . . . It’s really not possible for someone to imagine himself/herself as a subject in the process of becoming without having at the same time a disposition for change. And change of which she/he is not merely the victim but the subject. (Freire and Faundez 1989)
Freire developed and practiced a radical approach to education. He believed that education could improve the human condition, counteracting the effects of a psychology of oppression, and ultimately contributing to what he considered the ontological vocation of humankind: humanization. He thought that dialogue isn’t just about deepening understanding—but is part of making a difference in the world. Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect that has the potential to foster a community of people who work together for community well-being. Freire’s attention to naming the world has been of great significance to those educators who have traditionally worked with those who do not have a voice and who are oppressed (Smith 2001).
Freire’s insistence on situating all educational activity in the lived experience of people has opened up a series of possibilities for the way activists and educators can approach practices in research and pedagogy (Smith 2001). Several generations of educators, anthropologists, social scientists and political scientists, and professionals in the sciences and business, felt Freire’s influence and helped to construct pedagogy based in liberation. What he wrote became a part of the lives of an entire generation that learned to dream about a world of equality and justice that fought and continues to fight for this world today.
Freire distinguished discussion from dialogue that is characterized as a kind of speech that is humble, open, and focused on collaborative learning. It is communication that can awaken consciousness and prepares people for collective action. A generative theme is one that emerges from the lives of learners as they engage a course of study. It presents a point of entry for learning that has meaning and relevance to a particular group of learners at a particular time. Freire was concerned with praxis—action that is informed (and linked to certain values). Dialogue wasn’t just about deepening understanding—but was part of making a difference in the world. His attention to naming the world has been of great significance to those educators who have traditionally worked with those who do not have a voice, and who are oppressed. His insistence on situating educational activity in the lived experience of people has opened up a series of possibilities for the way educators can approach practice (Smith 2001). Dialogue occurs when people appreciate that they are involved in a mutual quest for understanding and insight.
Pedagogy and International Indigenous Students
Using Hofstede’s cultural scale of nations the United States is number one out of 70+ countries rated on the “individualism” scale. (Barnes, 2007 p. 132, Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov 2010). On a continuum from most individualist to most collectivist national cultures, the US, Australia and the U.K, are #1, #2 and #3 respectively out of the 70+ nations (the top 3 most individualist national cultures in the world). Most Indigenous cultures in the US and Canada, would be clustered at the far “collectivist” end of the continuum if they had been included in the studies by Hofstede. First Nations place very high value on their extended family, their connections to the community they live in, and the human relationships they have with the others in their “world.” In recent years, more have become aware of the unique wisdom in the philosophies and spiritual practices of Indigenous societies. While this native wisdom has always been part of human existence, its teachings have remained outside so-called “formal” educational discourse.
Any real understanding of the Indigenous student is not possible without a contextual appreciation of Indigenous philosophies and world views. Although numerous models of acculturation exist, I find the following framework helpful to describe the approaches and methods maintained, reclaimed, imposed and ascribed to within sovereign Indigenous nations.
1. Traditional Epistemologies
Indigenous knowledge (IK), alternately called traditional knowledge, is recognized as a dynamic, holistic system of explicit and implicit information, behaviors and practices, norms, values, language and worldview. Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) have been developed collectively by groups of people living in fixed areas for long periods of time, in some cases millennia. Such knowledge systems have enabled, and continue to enable, diverse indigenous peoples throughout the world to adapt to and survive environmental change and colonization. The main philosophical values include: Wholeness with everything in the universe believed to be part of a single whole. It is therefore possible to understand something only if we understand how it is connected to everything else. A second philosophical value is that of Change. All of creation is in a state of constant change. Nothing stays the same except change ... There are two kinds of change. The coming together of things ... and the coming apart of things. Both of these kinds of change are necessary and are always connected to each other. Third, Changes occur in cycles or patterns. They are not random or accidental. Sometimes it is difficult to see how a particular change is connected to everything else. This usually means that our standpoint is limiting our ability to see clearly. Finally, The seen and the unseen. The physical world is real. The spiritual world is real. These two are aspects of one reality. Yet, there are separate laws, which govern each of them. Violation of spiritual laws can affect the physical world. Violation of physical laws can affect the spiritual world. A balanced life is one that honors the laws of both of these dimensions of reality (Four Worlds Development Project, 1984, pp. 26-27).
2. Neo-traditional epistemologies
As a result of colonization there are those Indigenous learners and teachers who have developed knowledge systems which successfully combine traditional and new complementary models.
3. Bi-cultural epistemologies
A bicultural perspective promotes an understanding that the two world-views is best understood as parallel rather than shared, with only fragile links between them. The nature and degree of difference between Indigenous and Euro-American culture is so great that the only honest conclusion is that they are largely incompatible. The cultures are antithetic—consisting of more opposites than similarities. They are warring against each other at their foundations. Interpretations bi-culturally assist in resolving conflicts and drafting agreements and treaties with the understanding that respect for the agreement does not necessarily mean friendship.
4. Assimilated epistemologies
The assimilated Indigenous worldview accepts the colonizers hegemony and goes along to get along to the extent of attempting to build houses and nations with the colonizing occupier’s tools.
In her analysis of culture and morality entitled, “Fieldwork in Familiar Places,” Michelle Moody-Adams expands on the method of “thick description.” Moody-Adams posits that thick description means going beneath the surface, showing the complexity behind social “facts” (or fictions) and social actions. Thick description is commentary on more than just the facts themselves. Thick description involves interpreting intentions and expectations, and especially the intricate public structures of meaning within which it is possible to form intentions and actions on complex expectations. Thick description is thus interpretation of those structures that constitute the complex contexts within which meaningful action become possible (Moody-Adams 1997).
The methods of de-coding colonization and racism; dialogic generation of alternative epistemologies; and framing Indigenous epistemologies within the context of occupation fosters thick descriptions in the online international classroom as students and faculty listen to each other’s ideas and expand upon them or debate them in a manner in which genuine knowledge production becomes possible.
The philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, summarizes the critical goals advocated in this essay: Consciousness of a self which is opposed to others, which is differentiated and once having set itself a goal, can judge facts and events other than in themselves or for themselves but also in so far as they tend to drive history forward or backward. To know oneself means to be oneself, to be master of oneself, to distinguish oneself, to free oneself from a state of chaos, to exist as an element of order—but of one’s own order and one’s own discipline in striving for an ideal. And we cannot be successful in this unless we also know others, their history, the successive efforts they have made to be what they are, to create the civilization they have created and which we seek to replace with our own . . . And we must learn all this without losing sight of the ultimate aim: to know oneself better through others and to know others better through oneself. (Gramsci 1971)
Teachers must proceed with care and wisdom born out of an understanding of historic circumstances and the lives of colonized and occupied people. When in doubt, teachers should consult Native elders or professionals before proceeding.
Bopp, M. & Bopp, J. (I984a). "Four worlds development project—Overview." Saskatchewan Indian Federated College Journal.
Fanon, Frantz. 1961. “The Wretched of the Earth”. New York: Grove, 2004
Fanon, Frantz. 1959. Reciprocal Bases of National Culture and the Fight for Freedom
Freire, Paulo. 1970. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum Press.
Freire, Paulo and Antonio Faundez. 1989. Learning to question: A Pedagogy of liberation. New York: Continuum Press.
Gadamer, Hans Georg. 1975. Truth and method. New York: Continuum Press.
Gadotti, Moacir. 1997. Homage to Paulo Freire. Speech delivered at the Latin American Center, UCLA. http://jac.gsu.edu/jac/12.1/Articles/1.htm/
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. In The interpretation of culture, ed. Clifford Geertz. New York: Basic Books.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the prison notebooks. Edited and translated by Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers.
________. 1971. Selections from the prison notebooks. London: Lawrence and Wishart.
Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov, 2010 , The Hofstede Model in Context.
Moody-Adams, Michelle. 1997. Fieldwork in familiar places: Morality, culture, and philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Renner, Peter. 2002. Vulnerable to possibilities: A journey of self-knowing through personal narrative. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Smith, M. K. 2001. Dialogue and conversation. The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. http://www.infed.org/bibio/b-dialog.htm.
Geertz, Clifford. 1973. Thick description: Toward an interpretive theory of culture. In The interpretation of culture, ed. Clifford Geertz. New York: Basic Books.
Traditional, Neo-Traditional, Bi-cultural, and Assimilated Indigenous Models of Justice
By June Terpstra, Ph.D.
The most fundamental part of cultural sovereignty is to be able to distinguish who we are as a people, the eternal self-image, from all of those images that come from the outside world about who we are. The exercise of sovereignty means defining for our-selves or we will always fall victim to our past patterns of conditioning and victimization and this is antithetical to Indigenous self-determination. The force that will drive us is cultural sustainability. This calls for a contemporary and historical understanding of relationships between peoples as respected equals. Rebecca Tsosie, 14th Native Studies Association Conference Keynote
This essay is the second in a series reporting on my sabbatical research comparing Indigenous and non-Indigenous models of peacemaking and restorative justice. The first essay examined Navajo Peacemaking in the context of traditional Navajo philosophy and Indigenous Hawaiian practices in the Polynesian/Hawaiian process of justice. (Terpstra, 2013) In recent years, many people have become aware of the unique wisdom in the cosmologies and spiritual practices of Indigenous societies. While this native wisdom always has been part of human existence, its teachings have remained outside dominant educational, juridical, religious and media systems. My study of Yavapai and Canadian Indigenous practices is presented herein within a framework provided by Sioux elder, Valerian Three Irons, who offered this framework at a recent Native American Studies Conference in Tempe, Arizona. His framework offers points of entry in understanding justice models and perspectives. Understanding Indigenous models of justice is made possible through the contextual appreciation of Indigenous philosophies and worldviews. The following framework presents a continuum from pre-colonial Indigenous philosophies to acculturated and assimilated Euro-American worldviews is offered here to describe the methods maintained, reclaimed, imposed and ascribed to within sovereign Indigenous nations Federally controlled by US and Canada.
Europeans intentionally replaced indigenous systems and came to dominate colonial and post colonial societies. The imposition of Federal legal jurisdiction over sovereign native nations was another manifestation of European White supremacist domination using law to construct concepts of courts, crime, offenders and victims. These systems appoint non-Indigenous authorities demanding obedience and enforcing control over Indigenous people in their own territories. Western domination went one step further than merely imposing legal structures it claimed a scientific basis for cultural superiority to assume universality for its worldviews. As a standard part of colonization, the European scientific paradigm was introduced as the only valid system of knowledge.
In his article, “The Communal and the Decolonial”, Walter Mignolo, asks us to imagine:
Imagine the world around 1500. It was a polycentric and non-capitalist world. There were many civilizations, from China to sub-Saharan Africa, but none of them were globally dominant. At about this time, a radical change took place in global history that we can summarize in two points: the emergence of the Atlantic commercial circuit, and the fact that the West began to control the writing of global history. Between then and now, Western civilization, in the sense we understand it today, was founded and formed. There was no such thing as Western civilization before the European Renaissance. (Mignolo, 2010)
Indigenous knowledge (IK), has enabled, and continues to enable, diverse indigenous peoples throughout the world to adapt to and survive environmental change, colonization and globalization. The main philosophical values are described as follows in the Four Worlds Development Project.
Wholeness with everything in the universe believed to be part of a single whole. It is therefore possible to understand something only if we understand how it is connected to everything else. A second philosophical value is that of Change. All of creation is in a state of constant change. Nothing stays the same except change. Third, Changes occur in cycles or patterns. They are not random or accidental. Sometimes it is difficult to see how a particular change is connected to everything else. This usually means that our standpoint is limiting our ability to see clearly. Finally, that which is seen and that which is not seen. The physical world is real. The spiritual world is real. These two are aspects of one reality. There are separate laws, which govern each of them. Violation of spiritual laws can affect the physical world. Violation of physical laws can affect the spiritual world. A balanced life is one that honors the laws of both of these dimensions of reality. (Four Worlds Development Project, 1984, pp. 26-27).
Navajo Peacemaking in its traditional forms follows the linguistic and philosophical traditions passed down from one generation to another. Within traditional systems the concepts of prison, property, theft, offender, victim, retribution, and capital are linguistically and philosophically incongruent and incommensurate to Indigenous processes to restore harmony and balance in relationships among the people.
As a result of colonization there are those Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners and teachers who have developed together knowledge systems which successfully combine traditional and new complementary models. Some of the restorative justice models presently implemented in US and Canada represent these knowledge systems. The efforts here are to employ the best methods to restore the horrific effects of colonization and living under occupation. In these terms, relationship conflicts such as violence against women, alcohol and drug abuse, child abuse, and drunk driving are viewed as effects of colonialism and the loss of traditional knowledge systems. In traditional and neo-traditional processes there are no victims and offenders, as all are asked how they contributed to the conflict and all are asked what they will do to restore balance.
Bicultural Indigenous knowledge promotes understandings that the world-views of colonizer and colonized are best understood as parallel rather than shared, with only fragile links between them. The nature and degree of difference between Indigenous and Euro-American culture is so vast that the only honest conclusion is that they are largely incompatible. The cultures are antithetic—consisting of more opposites than similarities. They are warring against each other at their foundations. Interpretations bi-culturally assist in resolving conflicts and drafting agreements and treaties with the understanding that respect for the agreement does not necessarily mean friendship. The Navajo’s Peace-Making program has a bi-cultural training manager who trains Peace-Makers to translate in the Peacemaking process Navajo language and philosophy to all participants. Additionally, the bi-cultural training manager will translate and train the non-Indigenous participant or observer directly or in written training materials. The bi-cultural process teaches the participants the differences in the two philosophies of restorative and retributive throughout the process. While in the assimilated programs there is a victim and offender with the emphasis placed on how the offender will restore harmony through taking personal responsibility for the harm caused.
The assimilated Indigenous worldview accepts the colonizers hegemony and the use of the capitalist bottom line. The assimilated Indigenous adapt along the Indigenous Knowledge continuum on the non-traditional end. These are assimilated Euro-American frameworks implemented by survivors going along to get along by building their houses, courts, roads and the infrastructures of reservations with the colonizers tools, methods and technologies.
The Yavapai program I visited at Fort McDowell in Arizona represents a well assimilated model. Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts have emerged as alternatives to incarceration and as non-adversarial tools against the effects of alcohol and drugs in Indian country. However, there was an adamant response to the use of Indigenous peacemaking approaches in family violence cases by the Non-Native judge I interviewed at Fort McDowell. He repeatedly emphasized that victims of domestic violence should never be in the same room as abusers and offenders, saying that anyone suggesting otherwise “Stupid” and worthy to be disbarred. His vehemence on the subject represents the retributive ideological model promoted in social work and feminist theory over the past decades. The competitive nature of these disciplines and indeed capitalist cultures, provide another challenge. Indigenous restorative justice is sometimes seen as incommensurate philosophically while threatening the hard-won gains of capitalist retributive fields such as victim services. Programs are sometimes set against each other in competition for scarce resources.
Many of the Canadian programs reviewed in Lisa Monchalin’s presentation, Innovative Practices in Crime Prevention, at the recent 14th Annual Native American Studies Conference, may be understood on the continuum of bi-cultural to assimilationist as they occur off reservation in British Columbian Canadian courts offering restorative and conflict resolution processes to natives. Canadian natives were directly involved in the development of Restorative Justice in North America. A partial list of communities in Canada involved in RJ includes:
· Hollow Water, Manitoba (Moon, 1995)
· Canim Lake Indian Band Family Violence Program, British Columbia [Griffiths and Hamilton, 1996]
· Yukon (LaPrairie, 1992)
· Yukon (Kwanlin Dun)- “Circle Sentencing” (Stuart, 1996)
· Bella Bella, British Columbia (Bella Bella – Tom Brown videos)
· Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto
· Saskatoon Circle Court, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan .
All the programs above were connected in various ways to First Nation communities, and at their best, were designed to impact positively the justice system’s unequal treatment of First Nations people. (Griffiths, 1996) There is a wide range along the continuum of traditional to assimilated practices in Restorative Justice programs across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Many of the programs now combine holistic healing processes with Western clinical and advocacy techniques.
Traditional Indigenous, Western neo-traditional, and assimilated practitioners of restorative justice generally advise that programs are best accomplished through participatory, inclusive, collaborative processes. It is difficult for practitioners in assimilated programs to proceed when the individuals causing harm and the officials funding the programs reflect the societies values of competition, retribution, greed, power and profit by any means. The structural dimensions of the hierarchy ultimately do not support traditional Indigenous models that link each person’s human needs to the needs of others and nature as a whole.
If we believe in the interconnectedness and uniqueness of all; empowerment of self and other as an interconnected whole; recognition and respect for the needs of the “other” because the "other" is "us"; along with care-taking and stewardship of people and the planet, would the practice of these beliefs lead societies to create processes which ensure everyone’s basic human needs are met? While restorative justice does provide frameworks that are consistent with the values and principles of conflict transformation, and peace making they are incommensurate with the ideologies of capitalist retributive approaches to justice.
The rhetoric to develop creative win-win solutions to the problem of meeting the human needs of all “stakeholders” in participatory processes where all parties contribute to information gathering and share possible solutions sounds great but those offending the state are ultimately faced with the consequences of incarceration if they do not play nicely in the restorative sandbox. The individual successes make a marginal contribution to the aims of restorative and transformative justice. In the absence of deeper social structural transformations efforts to change the social and economic responses to crime are likely to remain focused on retribution for the crimes of the poor and dispossessed to protect the wealth of the rich and powerful.
The philosopher, Antonio Gramsci, summarizes the critical goals advocated in this essay: Consciousness of a self which is opposed to others, which is differentiated and once having set itself a goal, can judge facts and events other than in themselves or for themselves but also in so far as they tend to drive history forward or backward. To know oneself means to be oneself, to be master of oneself, to distinguish oneself, to free oneself from a state of chaos, to exist as an element of order of one’s own discipline in striving for an ideal. And we cannot be successful in this unless we also know others, their history, the successive efforts they have made to be what they are, to create the civilization they have created . . . And we must learn all this without losing sight of the ultimate aim: to know oneself better through others and to know others better through oneself. (Gramsci, 1971)
The paradox of liberal imperialism is that human dignity is often promoted in Western discourse to be rooted in the universal human capacity for reason. When Indigenous people trapped in Western retributive systems attempt to advocate their sovereignty with cultural practices unfamiliar or disturbing to the US or European practitioner, they may appear irrational and thus undeserving of recognition and respect. A primary task translating Indigenous models to non-Indigenous restorative justice advocates is to decode colonialism, racism and cultural imperialism and respect the epistemic voices of Indigenous people. Traditional Indigenous definitions of self-determination are those of resistance to non-Indigenous social, economic and political structures. The terms of engagement must be recast in solidarity for their right to self-determination. Culture is pivotal to the meaning of self-determination and cannot be distilled into one political right. Restorative and transformative justice advocates who listen to Indigenous people, their histories and philosophies, and the efforts they have made to survive in oppressive systems will have more of an impact in their aim to shift paradigms of retributive to restorative justice models by translating and communicating in multiple systems of knowledge. By promoting multiple epistemologies we have a fighting chance to create new models of justice within, across and beyond borders.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the prison notebooks. Edited and translated by Q. Hoare & G. N. Smith. New York: International Publishers.
Griffiths, Curt Taylor. 1996 "Sanctioning and healing: Restorative justice in Canadian aboriginal communities", International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice
Johnston, Basil (1976). Ojibwa heritage. Toronto: McClelland-Stewart Inc.
Lame Deer, J. (Fire), & Erdoes, R. (1972). Lame deer: Seeker of visions. New York: Washington Square Press.
Terpstra, June. 2013. Indigenous Models of Justice: Moving Beyond Tragedies. Restorative Justice Onilne, http://www.restorativejustice.org/RJOB/indigenous-models-of-justice-moving-beyond-tragedies-1/view
Indigenous Models of Justice: Moving Beyond Tragedies
June C. Terpstra, Ph.D.
What is an offender? It is someone who shows little regard for right relationships. That person has little respect for others. Navajos say of such a person, "He acts as if he has no relatives." So, what do you do when someone acts as if they have no relatives? You bring in the relatives! Robert Yazzie, Chief Justice of the Navajo Nation
The foundation of the restorative justice methods now introduced in the US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand and Australia emerged from Indigenous models of responding to harm in ways that emphasize balance, harmony, community restitution, reconciliation, humane responses and social justice. Over the last two decades justice scholars have been gradually shifting their attention toward restorative justice in order to move from punishment models to models for cooperation, nurturing, caring. Restorative justice is part of an ongoing historic process that resists the injustices established throughout the legal, political, and economic structures of retributive models of the past and present.
This first essay in a series begins with two indigenous processes of peacemaking and restorative justice: Navajo Peacemaking and the traditional Polynesian/Hawaiian process of justice. In January, 2013, I attended a seminar with restorative justice expert Johan Galtung on the Polynesian/Hawaiian model of restorative justice. I also stayed with family of family on the Navajo reservation in Steamboat Canyon, AZ. During this period I interviewed one Navajo Peacemaker, the trainer of Peacemakers, and two commissioners. Additionally, I attended the swearing in ceremony for chapter commissioners for the Navajo Nation.
The research focus for this sabbatical generated out of personal, political and intellectual desires for healing social processes in response to the harm humans do to one another. Recently a colleague remarked in a discussion in a Justice Studies department meeting that restorative justice programs were reformist tools that do not compare to transformative justice models in the quest for structural change. My response to this claim was to counter that Indigenous models of restorative justice and peacemaking were not well understood by this colleague and those who shared his critique. When understood within the context in which traditional peacemaking and restorative processes were embedded in the philosophies and constructs of every-day living prior to colonization one can see that returning to these structures is revolutionary in the classic meaning of revolving to the core of that worldview the Indigenous have been forced to suppress.
Reformers of retributive criminal justice models have adapted processes from Indigenous models. The overall intent of using restorative processes within the retributive systems is to resolve conflicts between individuals through the active participation of people labeled victims and offenders thus identifying solutions to conflict. Hence the primary research questions of this study: What are the results of utilizing restorative methods within retributive systems? What impact does the institutionalized retributive system impose on the effectiveness of restorative methods?
According to official DOJ documents, in September, 2012, the Department of Justice announced over 200 grants to more than 110 American Indian and Alaska Native nations. The grants will provide more than $101 million to enhance law enforcement practices, and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts in 10 purpose areas including public safety and community policing; justice systems planning; alcohol and substance abuse; corrections and correctional alternatives; violence against women; elder abuse; juvenile justice; and tribal youth programs. It is important to note that Indigenous models are embedded in philosophical constructs of cooperation and connectedness within the natural order while non-Indigenous models are inserted into philosophical constructs of citizens contractual obligations to the state. Cui bono, who benefits from sponsoring and implementing these restorative models?
Our children need to be taught our clan and born for kinship structure so they can help us reform and restore traditional ways while creating new ones. We need to farm again and learn to speak our language. (Cayedito interview 1/13)
In 1982, the Navajo Nation revived and institutionalized the traditional Navajo justice system, called hozhooji naat'aanii. This system is called "peacemaking" in English. Peacemaking is embedded within the traditional worldview of the Navajo to resolve the conflict and restore balance within the encompassing umbrella of Navajo philosophy. The Navajo Peacemaking process begins by asking the question, “What happened?”
Peacemaker Francis Lester reports that in order to understand the process itself it is critical to know the history of what happened to the Navajo people, also called, the Diné. The post- colonial focus of the US government has been to make the native dependent and punish them when they do not obey. After genocide, wars, and theft of their lands, the Diné were forced to lay down their weapons and accept the retributive laws and courts of the USA. On the reservation presently all reported felonies go to US federal court. Anything less may go to tribal court. Acts of violence or drinking under the influence are not “crimes” in Navajo system (Lester interview 1/8/13).
Roger Begaye, Peacemaker Training Manager for the Navajo Nation, reported that the whole idea of crime and courts has been forced on the Diné. Court is viewed as another mechanism of control and used to punish the Navajo for being Diné. The first experiences that Navajos had with US courts was the enforced travel to Fort Sumner or Fort Defiance resulting in incarceration that to this day the Navajo still call “gooldi”. The very concept of crime is a bilaganna (White) concept. (Begaye interview, 1/8/13)
Navajo peacemaking is one of the most renowned restorative justice programs in the world with people applying for training from around the world according to Roger Begaye. Inspired by faculty at Navajo Community College in the 1980s it is neither mediation nor alternative dispute resolution. It is often called a "horizontal system of justice" in the literature because all participants are treated as equals with the purpose of preserving ongoing relationships and restoring harmony among involved parties.
As Peacemaker, I am not there to judge. I am just like everyone there. I am the same as them. We do not use the terms offender and victim. Violence, addictions, these are not against the law on the reservation. (Lester interview, 1/13)
Roger Begaye reports that traditional Diné philosophy has four major categories of law: natural law, traditional law, customary law, and common law. He said:
When you cause harm the mind will suffer and be altered so to get back in harmony you must go to the medicine man for a reconstruction ceremony. Sand paintings are one form of reconstruction. The Peacemaker is the mediator between humans and nature. (Begaye, interview 1/13)
According to official Navajo documents:
Traditional Diné Peacemaking begins in a place of chaos, hóóchx̨o’/ anáhóót’i’, whether within an individual or between human beings. The historic trauma of colonialism and genocide has often resulted in Navajos staying away from face-to-face confrontations. However, in Dine’ philosophy such confrontations are vital in order to dispel hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’. The Peacemaker has the courage and skills to provide the groundwork for the person or group to confront hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’ and move toward mastering harmonious existence… When hóóchx̨o’/anáhóót’i’ is confronted, people may learn there is a choice to leave it. When harmony, hózh̨̨ó, is self-realized, sustaining it will have clarity and permanent hózh̨̨ó will be self-attainable, hózh̨ǫ́ójí k’ehgo nįná’íldee’ iłhááhodidzaa ná’oodzíí’. http://www.navajocourts.org/Peacemaking/Plan/PlanOps.pdf
In the present system of Navajo Peacemaking the parties in conflict meet with a Peacemaker after requesting this process and paying a sixty dollar fee. Sometimes meetings include others such as family members and friends or those with relevant expertise (e.g. addiction counselors and social workers). The Peacemaker, usually chosen by his or her chapter (a unit of local government), is a respected person with a demonstrated knowledge of traditional Navajo language and philosophy.
Lester reports that colonial imposition of religion on the reservation resulted in church representatives lobbying for peacemakers of each religious denomination. Once again, the bilagaana’s cultural and moral imperialism raised its ugly head insisting on the colonizers religious views to trump a native process interwoven in native cosmology. This demand was rejected by the designers and implementers as contradictory to the traditional process.
According to Roger Begaye in the “Cornstalker Philosophy” the distinctions between the Diné and the Bilagaana methods of justice are based in concepts of respect and best illustrated as follows:
The native has respect for himself and his existence in accordance to his creator, mother earth, and the universe. In distinction, he acknowledges reverence for himself and to his creator by offering white corn meal and prayer while anointing himself from the palms of his feet and upwards to the top of his head in the process. In this process he acknowledges his spatial existence, his sacred name by offering to mother earth, the universe, the cardinal directions, the environment in sacred places such as the mountains and nature before he acknowledges himself as a human being. This is a psychological reverence in which he acknowledges the meaning of well- being, existence and his determination to live a long extended life with guidance and eventually attain the virtues of the culmination of all the wisdom one can gain in one’s lifetime, called Yis’ah Na’ada. White people are generally more focused on the mind to achieve goals of profit. The will to survive and prosper with all goodness placed in money, a nice home, forms of travel, jewelry, and attainment of power in money. Respect for the earth and environment is second (if at all/my words) in importance to wealth and prosperity. Spirituality is in the form of church on Sundays. (Begaye, p. 7, 2007)
There are more than 250 Peacemakers from 110 chapters in the Navajo nation. Using the Navajo language is emphasized and Peacemaking begins with an opening traditional prayer sometimes in both Navajo and English. The Peacemaker explains the traditions from which the process emerged and the ancient teachings. There are four main questions to be posed in the Navajo peacemaking process:
What happened? 2. Why did it happen? 3. How do we go about it--(resolution and a better way)? 4. How do we heal?
The Peacemaker leads the group in developing recommendations and agreements if possible however both men I interviewed agreed that there is sometimes no “solution” or “resolution”.
Sometimes everyone must take some time to smoke and pray. (Begaye interview, 1/13)
Navajo concepts of healing and healing ceremonies also provide ways to confront family violence and even murder according to Lester. Healing requires that the person be actively involved in the traditional ceremonies prescribed. Francis Lester suggested in his interview that the process would be helpful for soldiers returning from wars with PTSD.
A significant difference between Navajo Peacemaking' and the Anglo model of restorative justice according to Lester is that Peacemaking allows self-referrals and requires no admission of guilt. Identifying the history of where and how the people lost balance and harmony results in identifying the right path for the future. Healing requires that the person be actively involved in the traditional ceremony.
While Navajo Peacemaking was reinstated to protect and support the customary practices of peacemaking it has been imposed within the structure of Anglo American retributive court procedural rules. The judicial institutionalization of Navajo Peacemaking within the retributive system may have the inadvertent consequence of changing its fundamental nature.
Indigenous Hawaiian Restorative Justice
Like the Navajo model the Hawaiian indigenous restoration process emphasizes the human connection to all things. Aloha means being one with nature. Expert trainer, Johan Galtung described five stages in his seminar:
1. The wise person asks each person to present their emotions and story and asks the person who caused harm, “why did you do it?”
2. The wise person asks everyone in circle “what did you do to prevent this from happening, what could you have done?” Everyone shares the seeds of responsibility.
3. The Wise person asks all to hold hands and lift heads to ask apology to the community/ ancestors/Creator for their acts of commission and omission.
4. The Wise person asks: “What is to be done to prevent this from happening—what would restore you and what will you do to restore the balance?”
5. The Wise person meets with everyone after a period of time to see if everyone is doing their part.
In indigenous justice (restorative) community well-being is emphasized—this is a whole community process based in indigenous philosophy. Hawaiian methods also are used within the structure of Anglo American retributive court procedural rules. Does this have the inadvertent consequence of changing its fundamental nature?
The literature on restorative justice (RJ) poses several features of Navajo Peacemaking that distinguish it both from typical RJ practices as well as from programs such as family group conferencing (Australia and New Zealand) or sentencing circles (Canada) that operate exclusively or primarily with Indigenous persons or within Indigenous communities.
The Navajo judiciary, like other judiciaries of Native American Nations, has attempted to 'de-colonize' federal Indian law through two processes: (1) establishing Navajo common law (including customary law and traditions, as well as court decisions) as sources of legal authority and (2) establishing processes that more nearly approximate dispute resolution processes said to be in existence pre-colonization…In the 1990s the Navajo Supreme Court began a strong effort to promote Peacemaking, receiving a federal grant to fund the payment of Peacemaking personnel. In 2001, the Navajo Tribal Council passed enabling legislation for the Peacemaking Division (7 NNC§ 409). Thus, unlike processes in some locales Peacemaking was developed from within the Navajo Nation rather than imposed from without. (Coker, 2006)
Even when Indigenous leaders control the process, the criminal justice system is embedded in constructs of retribution and sentencing which are contradictory to the healing processes the indigenous worldview fosters. The process of using non-Indigenous practitioners in sentencing circles or conferencing even when in consultation with Indigenous leaders may produce an emphasis more on blaming “offenders” and placating “victims than healing for the individuals involved and the whole community.
The Diné government has been too influenced in colonizer ways. Navajos must make the necessary changes on their own terms to continue as a distinct nation. (Cayedito, interview 1/13)
Western governments “allow” traditional native practitioners the authority to use traditional methods of solving problems or recognize decisions at specific levels. While practitioners within retributive systems may be incorporating some of these restorative processes they are not congruent with retributive civil or criminal law. The critical questions of the Indigenous processes concerning that which will prevent harms inflicted by all involved and the question of how all may heal are key elements that are non-existent in present day crime and punishment systems and structures. A dissonance occurs in embedding restorative processes within retributive systems of justice. Restorative processes must be embedded in systems and structures that embrace congruent philosophies and social justice on all levels of the society if they are to resolve harm, provide solutions enacted by communities, and promote healing.
Begaye, Roger. (2007) “Cornstalker Philosophy”. Navajocourts.org http://www.navajocourts.org/Peacemaking/corntext.pdf
Coker, Donna. (2006) “Restorative justice, Navajo Peacemaking and Domestic Violence” in Theoretical Criminology © 2006 SAGE Publications.
“Peacemaking Program of the Judicial Branch of the Navajo Nation” (1982) Navajocourts.org http://www.navajocourts.org/Peacemaking/Plan/PlanOps.pdf
Zion, James. (1998) “The Dynamics of Navajo Peacemaking”, Northern Arizona University Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, Vol. 14 No. 1, © Sage Publications, Inc.
Begaye, Roger. Peacemaker Bi-cultural Training Manager. Personal interview. 8 Jan. 2013.
Lester, Francis. Peacemaker. Personal interview. 8 Jan. 2013
Cayedito, Deborah. Chapter Commissioner. Personal interview. 7 Jan. 2013
LEARN is a website dedicated to education and research that focuses on liberation and self-determination for all people and towards the well being of the planet. This site offers writings of June Terpstra, Ph.D. along with others dedicated to ending oppression in all forms.