By Krystal Spring/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
ROCKY BOY AGENCY - The Chippewa Cree Tribe is one step closer to implementing the traditional Native American justice method of peacemaking on Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.
The University of Montana's Division of Educational Research and Services sponsored "Excavating Indian Justice on the Rocky Boy Reservation" - a three-day workshop at Stone Child College aimed at teaching participants dispute resolution procedures - mediation tools that rely on the abilities of both disputing parties to reach their own resolution, with the assistance of a trained "peacemaker."
About 15 people attended the workshop, led by UM adjunct professor Art Lusse last week. The mediation training was funded through a federal grant UM received from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Project.
The workshop participants had a unique opportunity to experience the effectiveness of mediation firsthand when Duane Gopher, the chief tribal judge in Rocky Boy, brought a housing dispute case from tribal court to the workshop for a live mediation. Lusse and another trained mediator from Helena facilitated the session with the two disputing parties. Lusse said the dispute was resolved, and the mediation provided valuable training for the workshop's participants.
"A live mediation at a training workshop was really a first for me," said Lusse, who has facilitated peacemaking courses for 17 years. "It was great; everyone learned a lot."
Walter Denny, a juvenile probation officer with the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court and workshop participant, said he's hopeful mediation will prove to be a more effective way to approach justice than the modern Anglo-European court system the tribe has in place now.
"We're trying to get back to our old ways," Denny said Thursday. "Mediation will allow us to mobilize our community to deal with problems as a group."
Lusse said traditional Native American justice is "horizontal" as opposed to the "vertical" Anglo-European system. While vertical justice relies heavily on a power hierarchy, where decisions are dictated by a judge, a horizontal system incorporates basic fundamentals of mediation, focusing on problem solving and healing for both victim and offender - an approach that appealed to the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court.
"This will help us develop tools and resources to better deal with disputes and conflicts in Rocky Boy," Denny said. "We plan to restructure parts of our court system to implement mediation."
UM has offered similar peacemaking workshops on the Crow, Northern Cheyenne, Salish and Kootenai, and Fort Peck reservations.
Jacqueline Turtle, a Southern Cheyenne tribal member from Seiling, Okla., participated in Lusse's mediation training while visiting Rocky Boy last week. Turtle said she gained valuable mediation tools she plans to share with her tribe when she returns home to Oklahoma.
"Mediation is a way to make sure that everyone has a voice in our justice system," she said. "That's important to my tribe."
In addition to helping the Chippewa Cree people restore their traditional justice method of peacemaking, the mediation workshop also provided participants an alternative to conflict and dispute resolution in everyday life.
"This training helped me learn to talk and interact with people in a different way," said Misty Geer, a youth employment specialist and supervisor of community service at District IV Human Resources Development Council in Havre and a mediation workshop participant.
Geer said the mediation tools she gained from the peacemaking workshop can be utilized in both her job and personal life.
"Mediation is really a life skill," she said. "I learned to listen and react to people in a way I normally wouldn't. It was a challenge, but mediation really appealed to me because it emphasizes an equal power between everyone involved."
Another workshop participant, the Rev. VaunDalee DeLong of Havre's Van Orsdel United Methodist Church, said she believes mediation is the most effective way of addressing justice, while still maintaining relationships.
"It takes time and effort to understand someone else's viewpoint," DeLong said. "Mediation helps ensure that relationships are maintained and restored, so healing can begin."
Lusse said last week's workshop, which focused on the basic fundamentals of peacemaking, is the first of three mediation training sessions that will be held in Rocky Boy. Workshops on family and divorce, and restorative justice will follow later this fall.