Peacemaking is the process of finding a resolution to a specific controversy by talking things out rather than by going to court. It is generally considered not a court process at all, though a matter can be referred by a court to peacemaking. Peacemaking may also be initiated by a party who wishes to have their matter resolved through the peacemaking process. Peacemaking functions by giving the parties and all other interested persons (typically each party’s extended family and others with knowledge about or a stake in the events) the opportunity to communicate openly about the matter in controversy; by providing guidance toward finding an agreed solution; and by thereby allowing the relationships among all persons concerned in the matter to be mended.
Focus is on a person’s bad acts, not on them being a bad person, and the hope is to find the underlying cause of their bad behavior. Then, with the agreement of everyone involved in the peacemaking session, a solution to that underlying problem can be found and put in place. Such an agreement must typically include restitution to the person who was wronged – in the form of cash, goods, work to be performed, or whatever else the parties find is appropriate for them. An apology is also typically considered to be a necessary element of the agreement. This works to restore a harmonious relationship between the person wronged and the one who did the wrong.
As opposed to western legal proceedings, peacemaking allows the victim to be directly and fully involved in the process, and to say whatever they think or feel about the actions of the person who wronged them. The proceeding is not adversarial. There are no rules of evidence in peacemaking proceedings and the proceedings are informal in style, often with everyone sitting in a circle, including the peacemaker. There are rules of conduct. Each person involved must treat all other participants with respect. They are to speak without hostility or harshness and are to listen to the other participants calmly, quietly and without interruption. Each person will be given the opportunity to speak as many times as needed in order to feel that their position has been heard and understood. Things that are said in a peacemaking session are completely confidential, and all participants are required to respect that confidentiality.
The process begins with the parties explaining in their own words what happened and what relief is requested. Once that has been fully addressed and is clear then everyone present is invited to speak regarding their feelings and thoughts about what transpired. Often elders will speak through stories, thereby relating to the parties what their behavior should be and how the behavior they engaged in negatively affected their family and community. Everyone is given an opportunity to speak about resolution of the controversy and possible remedies. Resolution must be by complete agreement of the parties. Should they be unable to agree, the matter would likely then go to court.
What is now called peacemaking is simply the way that many Indian tribes historically resolved all controversies between individuals. Peacemaking is being revived among a number of those tribes, and is being studied by western legal scholars and foreign nations, among other groups, as a possible alternative to their current methods of dispute resolution.