Kō Tainui te wāka
Kō Tararua ngā pae Maūnga
Kō Ōtaki te Awa
Kō Raūkawa te Marae
Kō Raūkawa te Iwi
It’s our fault – let’s accept responsibility.
Kia ora koutou, this is my first blog and may possibly be my last, depending on how things go! As a Restorative Practice practitioner, manager and advocate I have noticed over the last twenty odd years the stripping away of many of the essential aspects, or the essence, of what makes restorative justice or restorative practices so special and so unique. The really sad part of that is it’s all your fault: the practitioners, provider groups, organisations that are adopting restorative approaches, government agencies and without a doubt the hallowed ivory towers of academia.
You have all played a part and are still actively squeezing the last gasps of a movement that used to have people as the most important part of everything we did. No longer are we the innovators, creators and pathfinders in building more compassionate and caring societies. Societies based on our ability to encourage and create safe spaces for listening, sharing, and for the healing of harms, in an environment that maintains individual and collective grace and dignity. An environment that used to be Mana enhancing.
We have become mere tools in the systems that have colonised the restorative justice movement and quelled a rebellion seeking change. We are becoming what we wanted to change, a mere pawn in the larger systems of injustice and retribution.
To survive and practice, to effect the changes in the justice systems we work in, we falsely believed we can change the system from the inside. We can’t. Years of domination, a culture of entitlement and finely tuned systems of moneterised dependency have shackled us to the funders whose coins we accept. Standards, values and principles no longer belong to us, they have been written, adopted and changed to suit those in control. Facilitators, provider groups and organisations all take the payments for the work they do, and with that the accountability to the funders.
If we look hard enough throughout our movement we can all see places where the ego, business interests and drive have replaced any empathy or prioritisation of people over profit.
This has caused huge amounts of division and harm within the restorative justice/practice world.
There is nothing restorative when restorative practitioners and organisations get into conflict with one another fighting for the same pool of funding. I reflect on a number of beautiful, bright, caring, wonderful people and friends that I have seen experience such conflicts and are no longer practising or sharing their immense knowledge or skills. This is just one way in which we are manipulated, controlled and managed by systems that encourage competition amongst ourselves; that manage and create the tensions among us to divide and control us. Most of us will know and recognise this and yet we still practice and wilfully participate in the charade that we are going to make a difference and implement change.
Our practice does impact on people’s lives, we are lifting weights off people’s shoulders and providing safe spaces to heal harm and provide opportunities to move in positive directions unburdened. These are, of course, at the flaxroots level where it really does matter. The issue is the systems of control that we have bought into are having a greater input into who is able to participate in our processes; what is able to be discussed; and what outcomes are sought. Bluntly, we are becoming process driven and losing connection with the people. Are we still a people-centred process, where people are the most important part of the process?
Can we avoid a cookie cutter approach to restorative justice that is viewed by some as a franchise model that exploits restorative justice as a tool that can be used by people or organisations to enter into the disputes world and build their own empires?
I am as guilty as the next person. My personal challenge is: can I influence any change or halt the slippery slope we are on and restore the Mana we have lost?
Collectively we can do this.
“Waiho i te toipoto, kaua i te toiroa” – “let us keep close together not far apart”
About the Author
Mike Hinton has been a restorative practitioner for the last 24 years. He has worked extensively in Aotearoa as a facilitator with Manukau Urban Maori Authority in Auckland and as the manager and chairman of Restorative Practices Aotearoa. Mike has a strong commitment to indigenous rights and addressing the cultural harms caused through appropriation and colonisation.