Cultural appropriation in the RJ community (and other peacemaking spaces)

In my observation of circles, peacemaking, and some RJ conferences I notice an alarming amount of cultural appropriation.  Facilitators and programs “borrow” from peaceful traditions in order to create that feeling of peace and tranquility.  I am not interested in pointing fingers at any particular program so I will make this general.

It is important to recognize that modern Restorative Justice originated in the 1980’s  from the Malori Tribes in New Zealand, and it is important to know that many of our youth have no connection to the Malori or New Zealand.  Further, appropriation of traditions from Yogi’s and Monks from all over Asia have some value but no real connection to youth or adults living and working in the West.

Our work needs to be grounded in the new peacemaking traditions of the West.  These look and feel different then those we have imported or “Columbused” from other areas around the world.  I challenge our communities to create culturally relevant practices for communities.  Young black men from urban settings have almost no connection to Tibetan Monks, so why would we teach them like they are connected?  Young white males from rural VT have almost no connection to Yogi’s from India, so why do we teach them like they do? (Gross generalizations).  We need to create new processes and rituals that relate to the setting in which they exist.  Facilitators and program managers can’t expect youth to use culturally disconnected processes in school and then somehow apply those techniques to their, very different, community.

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About rjfacilitator

My experience, education, and passion have met in alternative discipline. Through my policy work and my mediation experience I have worked and studied the dynamic components of discipline in many settings. While Restorative Justice is not the only way to approach conflict in communities, it has provided me an effective model in which to examine and engage in conflict. We provide custom programs for schools, colleges, and youth serving agencies seeking to engage with conflict using healthy and sustainable tools.
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2 Responses to Cultural appropriation in the RJ community (and other peacemaking spaces)

  1. Important point and words. Often those who appropriate others cultural practices, even with good intent don’t understand the harm this practice inflicts on those whom had sacred ideals taken from them and used in a manner they were never intended.

  2. Julie Bradford says:

    You make valid points about youth being disconnected from those processes and rituals that adults attempt to use as tools for engagement. When I worked with youth in a junior high classroom setting, our classroom “rules” were developed by the students themselves. I had almost no discipline issues compared to the 50 or so other educators. My students had “buy-in” ; we created our “classroom culture”; they were connected and felt an ownership in our process. Continue your good works, NICHOLAS.

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