This video -- produced by the Organized Village of Kake -- depicts the restoration of traditional methods of dispute resolution the Organized Village of Kake adopted Circle Peacemaking as its tribal court in 1999. Circle Peacemaking brings together victims, wrongdoers, families, religious leaders, and social service providers in a forum that restores relationships and community harmony. With a recidivism rate of nearly zero, it is especially effective in addressing substance abuse-associated crimes.
The Organized Village of Kake. "Kake Circle Peacemaking." Kellogg Video Production. Kake, Alaska. 2003. Film.
This Honoring Nations "Lessons in Nation Building" video is featured on the Indigenous Governance Database with the permission of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development.
â€œCircle peacemaking is from traditional ways was called in the Tlingit language [Tlingit language], that meant that they were the 'People of the Deer.'â€
Kake Circle Peacemaking
â€œTraditionally, thereâ€™s the two moieties that are part of our Tlingit heritage and itâ€™s Eagle and the Raven moiety and under that thereâ€™s a clan system under each one. And when you look at the [Tlingit language], no one claims the Deer because the Deer Clan is a sacred clan because it means theyâ€™re the peacemakers. Okay, my name is Mike Jackson. Iâ€™m the Kakeâ€¦local Kake magistrate and also Keeper of the Circle.
Our circle peacemaking we began and brought out from our traditional way of living here in Kake five years ago and itâ€™s been five years that weâ€™ve been having the circle peacemaking at Kake where weâ€™re finding it really helps people in terms of remedial restorative justice where we have set up a plan for people who are referred to the circle and theyâ€™re referred either by friends, family, themselves or the court.
And the courtâ€¦the way they do it is that the defendant would propose it to their attorney, the attorney would propose it to the state DA [district attorney] and the DA and the attorney would take it to the judge and come up with whatâ€™s called a Rule 11 agreement. And that they would ask the judge to defer the state case and send the case over for circle sentencing. The judge will tell the defendant toâ€¦that heâ€™s bound and when the defendant agrees thatâ€™s what he wants to do, heâ€™s bound by whatâ€™s called the consensus agreement where we come up with a sentence that everybody agrees on that are participants in the community circle sentencing.
So that has been going fairly well because we work with the Superior Court judge and the District Court judges that over the years have referred cases to the circle. And sometimes the DA will put out in front of the defendant if they follow everything that is in the circle sentence, after the probationary period is done that they might dismiss the case, but if the defendant does not follow through with circle sentence, then we will have another hearing to see if thatâ€™s what his intention is or if he just forgot to do something within the agreement weâ€™ll give him another chance, but if he blows that chance then he is referred back to the District Attorney and the judge will do a sentencing on him. That has happened with two cases.
So probably out of 70 cases in adult circles, only two did not agree to follow up on the circle sentencing. But that is a real high rate of success. Thatâ€™s around about 98 percent, just a roundabout figure, whereas in the state way there is a high rate of recidivism. Iâ€™m not going to put a percentage on it, but itâ€™s pretty low compared to our rate of success.â€
â€œWe formed this group and theyâ€™re pretty much the core group for the circle. We try to getâ€¦we have reps from the different entities in the community, from the city council, tribal government, corporationâ€¦local corporations, the school, law enforcement and then elders and just anyone whoâ€™s concerned about wellness in the community.â€
â€œWhen you look at the state archives, you donâ€™t see any record of Kake criminal history until the state sets up a magistrate business here in the 1960s, but thereâ€™s nothing really until the â€˜70s. And all felonies were dealt with, thereâ€™s some felonies that does show up, but itâ€™s rare that you see a misdemeanor because all the problems were solved by the people themselves by talking it out and talking it out in a circle setting where you talk from the heart.
And by talking from the heart, I mean you bring up things that have happened to you similar to what was done by say a wrongdoer that was there, the state calls them offenders, and then thereâ€™s the victim. And in circle peacemaking, the victim is the most important component of the circle because they have to understand that they did not do anything to deserve what they ended up being victims of. And by victims through the circle process they come out survivors at the end of it. The important part of circles is the process. Itâ€™s not about the wrongdoer, the offender -- itâ€™s about the process when people start talking from the heart to support the victim, but also to support the wrongdoer.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t just handle criminal cases either. We also handle interventions, interventions of family members, a familyâ€™s concerned about a family member and theyâ€™ll refer them to the circle. We get more so of thatâ€¦that happening more so with the youth and itâ€™s just been very, very powerful.â€
â€œItâ€™s kind of like a big counseling group. I like it. You can talk about your problems and you donâ€™tâ€¦they find a punishment for you that suits your crime.â€
â€œWhenever thereâ€™s a youth who gets in trouble, we try toâ€¦we make it a point to invite anyone directly involved with the youth, in their life -- teachers, friends, parents, grandparents, people who know them, places they hang out. Just basically itâ€™s open to anybody.â€
â€œFor years it has really calmed down that revolving door that Iâ€™ve almost started to see...because Iâ€™ve been he magistrate for the last 14 years now and Iâ€™ve seen kids grow up from kindergarten, Head Start, all the way to graduation and ended up in the chair there. We knew that their behavior was something that they should have been addressed.â€
â€œLife moves by so fast that we donâ€™t really realize whatâ€™s going on around us. So I think that when you come into a circle and you sit down and you actually listen to what is really going on I think it gets pretty interesting. You get interested in it and whatâ€™s really going on, you finally get to see it.â€
â€œWhen an incident happens, the incident happens, then they go to an arraignment in the district court and right there, thatâ€™s when they have that opportunity to choose, take an alternative. Either if they want to plead not guilty and fight it then they can take it all the way to court, but if theyâ€™re obviously guilty then they can plead guilty or no contest and thatâ€™s where they have a choice is to either go to the alternative, which is the circle peacemaking or go to the regular system. So from there we try toâ€¦if they go to the regular court system, then their court hearing could be delayed a couple months and nothing happens. A lot of things can happen within two months and we feel itâ€™s very important to act on it immediately, respond to the incident immediately. So after they have the arraignment weâ€™ll either try to do it that night or the next day.â€
â€œIf someone is having trouble, I think a lot of people actually show up for it. They really do care. I never realized how much people cared until we had a real circle and I seen all these people. I was like, â€˜Whoa! These people really do care.â€™ So itâ€™s pretty cool.â€
Guidelines of Peacemaking
â€œThe â€˜guidelines of peacemakingâ€™ is that everyone is equal, like I come in as the magistrate, but when I sit down Iâ€™m part of the community, thatâ€™s all I am. Same way as the police, theyâ€™ll take their hat off and theyâ€™re part of the circle because every heart is at the same level. One person talks at a time, we respect each other, we do not point the blame and we take timely breaks. Everyone is inclusive, thereâ€™s a prayer at the beginning and at the end.
Now this is where spirituality comes into it. We find out a lot of people find themselves and their greater power when they go through the process of healing or counseling and it comes up to beâ€¦they come up to be a better person for it. They kind of gain their soul back because they say when youâ€™re out of control, your spirit leaves you because it sits there waiting for you if you get too involved in say drugs and alcohol or other addictions. But everyone in the room is part of the circle. Everything that is said in the circle is confidential.â€
The Circle Process
Stage I: Opening
â€œStage one, the opening of the circle, thereâ€™s the welcoming by the Keeper of the Circle. Thereâ€™s an opening prayer that is asked for, usually elders would say that. There are circle guidelines where we explain, just like we did here, the guidelines of the circle. Thereâ€™s introductions, itâ€™s a real quick introduction of who you are sitting there and what youâ€™ve come there for like support of the victim or the offender or just for support of the community and the circle by itself."
Stage II: Legal Facts
"Then the legal facts are said. Usually itâ€™s the judge or police or somebody volunteers to do that. The police might be there. If theyâ€™re not, thatâ€™s all right. Thereâ€™s a defense opening, which is usuallyâ€¦a lot of times they arenâ€™t thereâ€¦the public defender. And if there was something like a probationâ€¦there was a broken probation then thereâ€™s a probation report either by police or one of the local circle keepers. And what the legal facts are, the legal summary, what could have been sentenced if they went to court."
Stage III: Clarifying Information
â€œBut the Stage Three, the clarifying of information is by the support groups. A lot of times they will just wait to say their part when it comes their time to speak. But the last persons to speak in every round, especially afterâ€¦except for the introductionsâ€¦is going to be theâ€¦the last person really to speak would be the wrongdoer."
Stage IIII: Finding Common Ground
"But Stage Four is really searching for common ground where we use our talking stick and it could be anything, the talking circle, a stone, the spirituality of it like our elders have said this diamond willow that was given to us for the process, it represents our elders that have passed on, by them looking at us with the diamond eyes, and then it also represents todayâ€™s issues of what weâ€™re sitting there talking about, but it also represents a support of the people that do get up to talk. Sometimes people get up in respect of one another, but it also talks aboutâ€¦and they talk about the future of things."
Stage V: Exploring Options
"So people are looking for common ground, they start speaking from the heart on what they might have experienced and how they might be able to help the victim or the wrongdoer to get past the incident."
Stage VI: Developing Consensus
"Then after it all goes around, it comes back to looking at developing a consensus where usually thereâ€™s a support group or counselor that will say, â€˜Well, the offender would like to say this, that they were going to go to alcohol counseling or anger management or theyâ€™re going to write a letter of apology to the victim, their family and the community,â€™ and it starts the process of looking at a consensus or coming up with a circle sentence where it brings all the communityâ€™s concern, it brings and develops a remedial part of the circle where thereâ€™s a plan laid out where the offender is going to learn from it and how the healing is going to start for the victim and for the offender, their families and the community."
Stage VII: Closing of Circle
Now we go overâ€¦and it closes with a prayer and usually on all of ours that we do there are shaking of hands, a lot of times more in closely thereâ€™s hugging, thereâ€™s tears. A lot of times it gets very emotional and like the old people say, â€˜Tears are starting the process of healing to get the poison out of you and it starts the healing.â€™ And it says, â€˜Anybody can shed a tear.â€™â€
â€œItâ€™s all about the encouragement, the ongoing support, and when we know theyâ€™re doing good we get together, people bring the food and itâ€™s a little potluck afterwards. Itâ€™s just small, just munchies and everything. Thatâ€™s the only money we spent, too.â€
â€œWe cannot afford to wait any longer to have somebody come in to cure us. We have to do that within ourselves. It would be way too moreâ€¦too expensive to try to do that with todayâ€™s modern way of approaching curing people.â€
â€œWe started out with no money at all â€˜cause this really doesnâ€™t take money, just concerned people.â€
â€œI would say weâ€™ve saved the State of Alaska hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future from people sobering up; the State of Alaska and the different say non-profit organizations, health organizations. People are now doing things that are relevant in their lives. The costsâ€¦we have no budget. We run on zero, because who else is going to do it?â€
â€œThis is a situation where weâ€™re seeing results immediately, the next day, within the next week. Itâ€™s nothing we have to wait a few months down the road or to a year to see if we had an impact at all.â€
â€œA lot of times in a macho male world they say weâ€™ve been brought up to say that itâ€™s not good for men to cry, but we know in a circle and we tell them, â€˜Once you find safety in a circle, a lot of times you talk from the heart and from the heart thereâ€™s that emotion that comes out, the expression of it and we do not try to hold those things back. We try to say thatâ€™s just part of the process of how people heal.â€
Principles Common To All Circles
â€œBut the principles common to all circles is their process. The consensus approach where everyone is agreeingâ€¦even if they disagree, theyâ€™re agreeing to go along with it because itâ€™ll benefit the whole circle but it will also benefit the whole community. Thereâ€™s interest based, itâ€™s really subject to what really happened. Itâ€™s self designed because every circle is different, weâ€™re finding out. The flexibility of circles is one of the best parts of it because we can have that any time, anywhere, anyplace and that people are always invited, anyone thatâ€™s invited to come and that is willing to come to volunteer. The spirituality part, you noticed that weâ€™ve had prayers in the openings and prayers at the end, to open it and start it in a good way because circles are sacred when people come together to talk about a healing process. Thereâ€™s, like I said, the holistic healing. Thereâ€™s a plan laid out and if itâ€™s not followed, then thereâ€™s another circle done as a follow up circle. We just donâ€™t give up on people. On some people weâ€™ve had three, four circles because in a way they start changing. We meet with them over and over again and then theyâ€™ll start seeing the change and starting to get their soul back and that is really something to watch people grow.
Thereâ€™s the participants, thereâ€™s anybody thatâ€™s inclusive that would like to volunteer. Thereâ€™s a direct participation by everyone with an equal opportunity to talk, to give their heartâ€¦sharing their heart and their perspective and the respect of one another. The people that have come voluntarily, every time that are inclusive come back saying that itâ€™s also good for them. The whole process is that theyâ€™re becoming better people in the community. I know it has been a calming effect on me, on my perspective of different religions and to meâ€¦I didnâ€™t know what '12 Steps' were until people that were in the '12-Step' program started really telling me what it was about. So Iâ€™ve learned a lot about addictions from people that are right in it.
Thereâ€™s the principles derived from circles, thereâ€™s the peacemaking people that go through, they learn it and as we have in our community there are the youth circles, thatâ€™s what we call youth courts. Thereâ€™s the mediation, people start learning how to compromise and give and take. Then thereâ€™s consensus building in our community. People start learning how to give up oneself and say, â€˜Well, I can give up that much of myself because itâ€™s good for the victim, itâ€™s good for the wrongdoer, itâ€™s good for the community.â€™ They start learningâ€¦to me, itâ€™s a personal observationâ€¦we start learning to be Tlingits again. Tlingitâ€™s not just about like some elders mentioned that I read somewhere, itâ€™s not about just language, itâ€™s not about just dance or the oral part of it, but itâ€™s about listening, itâ€™s about participation, itâ€™s about caring for the community, itâ€™s about practicing being Tlingit, about sharing oneself for the betterment of the community and the children.â€
Benefits of Integrating the Court System with the Community Circle
â€œâ€˜Itâ€™s important for communities to be involved in the process that directly affects the community,â€™ Judge Barry Stuart says. â€˜Itâ€™s also essential that the community members establish a working relationship and partnership with the formal system,â€™ in our sense itâ€™s Alaska court system, â€˜and the circle peacemaking and acknowledge that our experiences shows that when this is done, it develops a much stronger community.â€™ It just helps our whole community out. Thereâ€™s not so much money being spent on wrongdoers anymore. The changes from courts to community circle peacemaking is really radical. Weâ€™re not saying that one process is better than the other, but weâ€™re knowing that when we get together and work together it becomes a better community.
The court system, community circles, whoâ€™s involved in the circles is local people, whoâ€™s involved in the court is lawyers and non-residents. Just like today, we had a hearing. The judge and the lawyers were from out of town and the local residents were sitting here listening telephonically. Who knows better what to do with local people than ourselves? The consensus agreement of the process is community versus the problem. The process in the court system is adversarial, state versus offender. Itâ€™s very different. The legal issues in the court are laws are broken. Here in our circles, relationships are broken and itâ€™s really dramatic when you look at things like assault fourth degree, domestic violence. It affects everybody. The focus in the court is about guilt and offender. So over here in the community circles, itâ€™s about holistic view, the needs of the victim, the community, the source of the problem, the wrongdoer, the resources for the solutions. In Kake, weâ€™re real fortunate to have counselors and social workers to help us out to come up with resolutions and trying to make people work on their healing path.
The tools of the court system is punishment and control, but weâ€™re finding out that it always goes and itâ€™s always proven, assault for domestic violence, you punish the wrongdoer or offender and you put them in jail, thatâ€™s what he expects and you notice and they all kind of stick together in jail because they all know that they can blame somebody else for their wrongdoing. So it givesâ€¦it empowers them and it gives them still control in their own minds. Whereas you look over here in the community circles, itâ€™s about healing and support. When you start supporting those wrongdoers, youâ€™ll never see anybody change so radically because maybe itâ€™s a first time somebody, â€˜I love you, I care for you,â€™ rather than putting them down. Like I said, words could be clubs and maybe thatâ€™s all theyâ€™ve ever heard all their lives. Even in our small community, weâ€™re really surprised that so few people ever heard the words, â€˜Weâ€™re here just because we care about you.â€™â€
â€œThen we also have follow-up circles. We check on these people: a month, three months and then six months down the road and if theyâ€¦and this is just to see how theyâ€™re doing, check on them. Everyone in the circle, itâ€™s veryâ€¦itâ€™s confidential. Thatâ€™s a very important aspect of the circle also. Itâ€™s confidential, but anyone in the circle, they can talk amongst themselves about the circle hearing and theyâ€™re all the eyes and ears out there in the community. Like I was saying, we all see each other so we know what the person, the offender or the youth in question, whatâ€™s going on with them, what to watch for now. And everyone makes a commitment to check on this person, at least stop and say hi if they see them. If they see theyâ€™re feeling bummed out, theyâ€™re feeling a little bad, depressed or what have you or may be acting out, theyâ€™ll make a commitment to stop and talk to them or let the group know and weâ€™ll call another circle, call them in and ask themâ€¦just do a follow-up.â€
â€œAs a small individual group in Kake, weâ€™re starting to be called all over to see if we can come and talk about what weâ€™re doing here. To me thatâ€™s remarkable in a five-year period because all weâ€™re doing is whatâ€™s called self-determination and practicing autonomy. Who is going to come in to change us? All our lives weâ€™ve been up against change but whoâ€¦are we going to make ourselves better? It depends upon ourselves. We cannot wait for the government or someone to come and save us. We have to do it ourselves because we would like to have our children have a better day.â€
â€œWeâ€™re starting to do more trainings, getting calls to come out and train. Weâ€™veâ€¦our kids have gone to Mount Edgecumbe Boarding School, Mount Edgecumbe High School, and worked with the kids over there. Weâ€™ve gone to Ketchikan to work with their youth court over there. Our adult circleâ€™s getting called out now to do trainings in different communities. Itâ€™s just really taking off. Thatâ€™s why we talk about the spirit it has of itâ€™s own. Itâ€™s just branching out.â€
â€œIn other communities like Haines where they started this a year and a half ago, that it works up in an all non-nativeâ€¦really a non-native community, but it works there. Itâ€™s working in mid Anchorage where the juvenile homes are using it for talking circles and to start talking about juvenile probation issues. So it works anywhere.â€
â€œWanted to build this relationship again within the community, itâ€™s all about restoring a relationship and balance within the people and the community and weâ€™ve found that the circle is just the perfect way to do this because when you attend a circle, youâ€™re there to support one person, but everyone in there is sharing from their heart. Itâ€™s all about compassion and encouragement and support.â€
â€œAnd to us this stick has supported a lot of people on their way to healing. It has become very shiny and kind of a sacred stick to us and itâ€™s just the diamond willow and it might be called an ugly stick, but it sure is a beauty stick to people who have changed their lives. [Tlingit language]. Good luck.â€
For More Information Contact
Mike A. Jackson
(907) 785-3651 or 6471
Organized Village of Kake
Post Office Box 316
Kake, Alaska 90830
Kellogg Video Productions 2003
Edited by Brian Kellogg
907 351 6439
Property of OVK