As a way of thinking and being, restorative practice is an emerging social science founded in Justice, that provides a framework for building community where people feel connected, safe, and are thriving.
Belonging is perhaps the single most important feature in violence prevention. How schools, workplaces, communities create a sense of belonging, a sense of community, is the main premise for developing an effective violence prevention strategy.
Restorative practices and dispute resolution training are beneficial for workplaces, schools, boards of directors and anywhere that people connect and interact within a community.
A restorative response (conversations, circles, conferences) is specifically designed to help an individual stay connected, even when they have made a mistake or a have been a victim of wrongdoing. By “making things right”, restorative practices seek to knit wholeness back into a community which has been torn; it seeks to repair relationships so students/staff/family can focus on their school/work/life goals, and fully reconnect as a member of the community.
Rooted in Indigenous worldview or pedagogy, circles provide a safe environment for people to share their views and experiences with one another to promote understanding and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. Circles are universal. The principle of inclusion (egalitarianism) assures participants from diverse cultural-ethic backgrounds feel welcome and safe to be their authentic self. According to Desmeules (2017), Restorative Justice offers a portal for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities to reclaim traditional ways of knowing (relatable to any historically oppressed population) to address hurtful/harmful behaviour to oneself/others, by reconciling underlying historic injustices with the aim of restoring safety and well-being.
In celebration of National Aboriginal Day, the President's Aboriginal Advisory Committee members at Portage College will undertake restorative justice training.
The two day training is designed in partnership with the International Institute of Restorative Practices—Canada and in alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.
The President’s Advisory Committee’s function is to advise the President & CEO on the College’s history of indigenization, its current activities relative to indigenization, and possible further indigenization activities. The Committee is tasked to develop and initiate an Inclusion and Indigenization Plan that is broad-based, engenders respect, trust, and institutional growth.
Portage College has an interesting history approaching its 50th anniversary in 2018. With funding cuts, a group of Aboriginal students faced with the pending closure of their school decided to challenge the government by staging a sit-in. Through struggle, activism and community collaboration, the programming was restored and the College steadily grew to the institution it is today.
You can learn the full history of Portage College, directly from the stories of people involved, on their YouTube channel:
We interviewed Dr. Trent Keough, President & CEO of Portage College, about this internal training initiative.
How are restorative practices used at Portage College?
Last year an employee attended a course by Gayle Desmeules from True Dialogue on resolving conflicts on campus, conflict mediation, restorative justice, and this resonated with how we dealt with conflicts on campuses in the past and how we want to journey forward within our organization and look at ways to incorporate with student life.
We want those in conflict to take ownership, as well as have understanding how their actions impacted others, empathy to correct behavior voluntarily, as opposed to applying strict punitive actions to the individuals involved.
We want to develop future citizens that accept and recognize their role in society with accountability.
We want our institution to view the world as a community and recognize the impact of others. It’s a structured way to pause, bring people together and reflect to create a plan for reparation and to move forward together.
What barriers exist to indigenizing? Why is it important?
In comparison to many post-secondary schools in Alberta and Canada we live in respect for Indigenous culture. We could always do more and better though.
When you look at our history and our relationship with Métis and Cree Peoples, you quickly realize that we were gifted from them to the communities we serve. We have a high proportion of Indigenous students in our institution, it fluctuates in the last 50 years but there’s a consensus we’ve historically recognized that we are on Treaty 6 Territory. That Indigenous culture has impacted the way in which we behave. For many institutions its: How can we Indigenize? We on the other hand are looking at shining a spotlight on how Indigenous cultures have changed our organization and our culture over time. We see this as an opportunity to say: Where are the subtleties of Indigenization in our organization? Where are the pieces that are overt? It’s an opportunity for us to self-explore.
How does this training fit into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
This training is taking place because we established the President’s Indigenous Advisory Committee, which has a cross section of people that work at the college. It is by mandate 85-90% populated by Indigenous persons. This group is leading, assessing and evaluating how well Portage College has done with Indigenization: how well we have embraced, celebrated and used Indigenous worldview in our curriculum, political and economic outlooks.
The real sensitivity for us is that Indigenization isn’t about reverse colonization. It isn’t forcing people to think otherwise. It’s giving them the opportunity to think otherwise in a celebratory manner and a respectful manner. While we recognize that Indigenous cultures in this country historically and currently experience persecution and oppression, this is an opportunity for all Canadians to own the cultural heritage of Canada.
We’re looking at how can we incorporate Indigenous world views into our organization so that it increases our success, magnifies and recognizes the presence of Indigenous people within our organization and the communities we serve.
It’s about inclusion and we already see the enthusiasm for our institution being genuinely interested in exploring this topic in a healthy and helpful way. We have been shaped by working with Indigenous peoples. We need to reflect how they have influenced our practices over the years.
What are you hoping participants take away from this training?
A genuine openness to understand Indigenous world-view, understand the principles of restorative justice, and to ground our team in a set of principles that are formational.
It’s a learning and team building exercise that is acutely important as we go forward with our Indigenization program. This group is going to make critical decisions regarding which elements of Indigenization the college will focus on for the next three years.
Anything that increases awareness to individual student needs, whether they are Indigenous or not, benefits everyone. When we incorporate restorative justice best practices into conflict in this organization, it applies to everyone.
Want more information?
Learn more about Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training at Portage College.
Learn more about Restorative Practices training at ADRIA.
Want to bring dispute resolution training to your organization? Check out our Corporate and Group Training options.
Thank you to Gayle Desmeules, Dr. Trent Keough and Jaime Davies for their contributions to this article.
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