Aiming to Heal, Restorative Justice

Everybody is well aware that there is an over-representation of Indigenous and minority peoples in settler colonial criminal justice systems. We also know it was designed that way.

The colonial structures and their current approaches towards justice have many of us questioning its effectiveness. Why does punishment fail, and why does it increase recurring offences? 

If the end goal or resolution is for the undesired behaviour to stop, while acknowledging the wrongdoing, and working to a resolution of healing and preventing further harm, we truly need to decolonize our ways.

Colonial systems perceived Indigenous ways of knowing and being as inferior. Indigenous peoples were deemed as “savages” but, it was always a projection. Colonial systems use tactics of shame, smearing and isolation. The focus is not long term peace when the goal is punishment. 

Decolonization of justice can look various ways. For example, Inuit believe in acknowledging and righting a wrong, with the long term goal of a harmonious return to community. Inuit understood you were not your mistakes, in fact, many Indigenous nations understand that the behavior is due to adverse social conditions rather than an individual’s nature. 

 Prior to colonization Inuit had “mamisarnit’ or healing circles with Shamans. In the healing circles, Inuit and the Shaman would support each other and everyone collectively would ask that the transgression be forgiven in order for the healing to begin. It was believed that nothing should be kept inside a person, ‘aniartuq’ (to bring a thing out into the open) and that the transgressions would be met with love and safety. Elders told us that there were rare cases of reoccurring offences this way. 

It is important to recognize that this process was not a punishment because the end goal was harmony and peace. Realignment. Punitive tactics such as punishment, shame, isolation were taught to Inuit by colonialism. And we can see by the glaring statistics how ineffective and costly it is. 

Today, around the globe, many places are beginning to look into alternative justice systems for Indigenous and minority peoples using restorative justice, which prioritizes reconciliation and holistic community healing over punishment. Colonialism permanently stigmatizes those who have made mistakes whereas decolonizing is a to move forward, a way to heal communities.

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