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Module 4 - Working Across Cultures in restorative justice


This chapter gives some background concepts of tikanga Maori and discusses the issues for facilitators in working across cultures.

Learning outcomes

At the end of this module you will be able to:

  • describe the key concepts underlying tikanga Maori in the context of restorative justice
  • understand the issues involved in working across cultures in restorative justice
Different Forms of Restorative Justice Processes

Restorative justice is not a new development for redressing the effects of crime. Many cultures have some entrenched restorative traditions. Ancient civilisations provide examples of systems requiring offenders to make amends to victims in the interests of restitution, where community peace had priority over punishment or revenge. The flexibility of restorative justice processes to accommodate different cultural practices is a given.

Restorative justice practices emphasise the importance of the community to the process. The facilitator must accommodate cultural customs of the victim, offender and their communities. This may mean it is appropriate to hold a restorative justice conference at a culturally significant venue, if all participants agree. Provider groups will try to refer cases to facilitators from the culture of the primary participants.

However, for safety and to avoid re-victimisation of the victim, where participants are from different cultures, the preference of the victim should prevail.

Obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi

There is an obligation on the Crown to act within the principles of the Treaty to facilitate the right to self-determination within criminal justice for Maori. Tino rangatiratanga in Article II of the Treaty of Waitangi means the unqualified exercise of chieftainship that Maori retained over their lands, villages and taonga. Taonga means treasures or anything highly prized, for example Maori language and culture, and, as a matter for the Crown to take into account, justice.

The need for compliance with Treaty principles is accepted by the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. The fact that Maori rights are part of the law of New Zealand underpins the idea of alternatives to criminal justice processes which accord with Maori customary rights. Restorative justice provides one alternative. While it is not solely a Maori system of justice, restorative justice provides a complementary system which incorporates and gives effect to the values and aspirations of both Treaty partners.

Overview from Malcolm Peri

Malcolm Peri is a kaumatua from Te Rarawa and a counsellor who has worked in community based Maori social services for many years. He was invited to speak to trainees in the 2001 facilitator training for the court-referred restorative justice pilot. He sounded a warning that simply grafting ethnic process on the Western restorative justice model is not good enough. The following materials indicate his views that Maori need to own the restorative justice process in order for it to be meaningful to Maori.

Maori have always had strong spiritual beliefs. Maori myths, legends and proverbs have an important impact on Maoridom as a whole. The Maori celestial world is the source of conflict resolution. The primary objective is to resolve conflict within the iwi (tribe), hapu (subtribe) and whanau (extended family).

Prior to European settlement in New Zealand, Maori had a well developed system of custom and process that ensured the protection of individuals, the stability of social life and the integrity of the group. The system of governance within the Maori system was based on tikanga (justice or fairness as evidenced in customary practice). At the heart of tikanga are the relationships between people. Protocol governed how these relationships were established and maintained.

Protocols relevant to relationships are illustrated in the karanga which is the call onto the marae, the mihi or greeting, the hongi or touching, kaitahi which is the eating together and the moetahi or sleeping together. These protocols are still an important feature of any gathering.

Whakapapa or genealogy is fundamental to defining relationships. Whakapapa is the historical basis for current relationships. Behind each individual member of the community is the whanau or extended family and hapu or subtribe - wider clan. It is the interests of the whanau and hapu that governed justice, not the interests of the individual.

Traditionally, whanau and hapu structures provided for conflict resolution similar to restorative justice. When a conflict arose, community process enabled a consideration of the interests of the social group or whanaungatanga and ensured the integrity of the social fabric. Whanau and hapu meetings provided a forum for hearing the voices of all parties and decisions were arrived at by community census or kotahitanga. The aim of this process was to restore mana to the victim, the victim's family and the family of the offender and to restore the social order for the wider community. The primary mechanism for achieving justice was seen as the group being accountable for the actions of the individual or manaakitanga and that exacted compensation on behalf of those harmed.

Maori Ownership of the Process

Cultural practices of the indigenous people of New Zealand must be given their proper place of influence on our practices and procedures if these are to have direct relevance to the tangata whenua and others with different ethnic origins in New Zealand.

Maori must own their own restorative justice process for it to have effect for Maori. Restorative justice should include the restoration of Maori processes with the objective of restoration of being Maori, which means restoring the whole being. For Maori, other people's processes, to restore Maori, does not work. The restorative process for Maori needs to be one that is related to their dual nature of being Maori and non-Maori, with the focus being on bi-culturalism. This is a shared responsibility between the Crown and the iwi, to bring about restoration of the whole being.

To have open and frank communication in the restorative conference, Maori participants have to experience their process being equally acknowledged in the whole process. As long as the process is perceived as a Westernised process, Maori cannot realistically fully participate. This is because of the reality; 'to restore Maori is a Maori responsibility'. There is a Maori proverb that reflects this point:

"Kei te tangi te tui, "When the tui cries

Ko te tui anake It is only the tui

I whakahoki te tangi That returns the call"

One can say all the right things, put in the right phrases, but the situation is not going to change because they have not actually empowered Maori within the process.

Marae-based Justice

For Maori to own their restorative justice process then something in line with marae-based justice is needed. The title marae-based is a metaphor referring to the process being tikanga-Maori and the processors being the Maori community, rather than reference to the physical place. Whilst the function of the marae is a gathering place for whanau, its kawa has not evolved as a statutory function.

Whilst "marae-based justice" implies that it is a different justice system and a different process to the Court system, the objects are the same, which is to counter offending and reduce the crime rate amongst Maori. With the process being different, that is empowering the whole framework implied in the metaphor of marae-based; you would expect a different outcome. This does not imply Maori outside the judicial system because the Court system comprises everybody. Marae-based justice does not shift this principle. If the justice system will accommodate this framework there will be a whole structural change, social change and a whole atmospheric change.

The Court system is a system owned by the whole nation. In relation to restorative justice, this means the outcomes effect and belongs to the whole community. However, for the process of restorative justice to achieve the ideal outcome, the process has to be the specific responsibility of the particular people concerned.


The current social situation of Maori can be described as being in a state of dysfunction, which can be contributed to their sense of kore-take, a lack of purpose or lack of wholeness.

All the goodwill that non-Maori express towards Maori gets unappreciated as a consequence of the inability of the system to meaningfully serve Maori. In Maori this is referred to as kawa, and implies; "If you employ the wrong kawa, the right outcome will not be achieved".

The term kawa is used to denote the English concept of protocol. In Maori kawa is a psychological aspect of the concept 'ka'- in reference to the psych 'ka-ora' and 'ahika' – to awaken and preserve, plus the concept 'wa' – in reference to 'te wa' or procedure. Thus the Maori meaning of kawa refers to the process or procedure to achieve an outcome. Any process to effect sustainable outcomes for Maori would need to involve not only Maori practitioners but also Maori psychology.

Absence of healing

When working within the justice system there needs to be the realisation that all the goodwill aimed at changing the situation for Maori is not being materialised. Rather the situation tends to be getting worse, and a contributing factor to this is the absence of healing within the present process of the justice system. As a consequence of this there is a tendency for the Maori aspiration for healing to be overshadowed by a sense of being beyond healing.

When Maori does not own the process, then it can only promote an external perception of what is Maori, rather than the actual reality from within the Maori worldview. Whilst the restorative justice conference has an intention to address or heal the violation, caused by the offending, in reality the continued absence of a Maori owned process lessens the chance of healing for Maori. This denial maintains the alienation of Maori from the potential within themselves, with the consequences that their tapu is diminished. That is, their substance, which is their potential for good behaviour, being abated. In Maori terms this relates to one being in the state of noa, that is the absence of mana.

There is the tendency of western practitioners to view the law as belonging to them. That is that they own the professional aspect, while Maori own the cultural aspect. This assumption implies that the cultural aspect is not professional, and this is the crux of the problem. The crux of the problem is seen to stem from the ethnic aspect as opposed to the process employed.

If the criminal justice system is going to adopt a meaningful restorative justice process then an element of the restorative process needs to restore and implement Maori processes. This will give restorative justice integrity for Maori.

The term 'ture', used to denote 'Law' (kawanatanga), implies the process to achieve justice and alludes to being Maori, however the lack of the Maori world view (rangatiratanga) insinuates to Maori a sense of injustice as opposed to the achievement of justice.

This is similar to the use of tapu with the held perception that it is church owned (hahitanga), i.e. all things holy and sacred to the church, but all things holy and sacred to Maori (whanaungatanga) being taputapu or restricted.

The consequence of this conditioning contributes much to the social decline and diminishing state of Maori spirituality. The concept of tapu comes from the Maori worldview and alludes to the potential for power to effect change, referred to in Maori as mana.

The restriction or confinement subjects Maori to being controlled by whoever owns the process rather than becoming responsible for contributing towards their wholeness and wellbeing. Tapu implies a process that relates to one's being in relationship to one's people (tangata), environment (whenua), spirituality (atua), hence, 'mana-tangata', 'mana-whenua', 'mana-atua'. All are intertwined in the whole being. These three elements contain the natural healing aspect within the Maori process, which are universal principles and fundamental to all cultures.

Maori view of restorative justice is a process based on the Principles of Tika, Pono, Aroha:

Tika What is right

Pono Having integrity

Aroha Having compassion

The application of these three principles will provide the restorative justice process mana; that is a process to address, restore and enhance people's potential for change; 'te tapu i te tangata'. The formula will also enable the process to achieve healing and reconciliation whilst ensuring justice for all parties concerned.

This is an expression of the contribution that Maori can bring to "Restorative Justice". Should Maori not be given the opportunity and responsibility to develop and own their process then the status quo will continue, that is, the illusion of aroha and mana.

Maori processes contribute to the "wholeness' of being Maori and have an effect on mind, body and soul. Western process cannot bring this about for Maori despite the goodwill to do so. Until we employ such a process that can whaka-oho or awaken mind, body and soul, Maori potential for change will lay dormant.

To employ an effective process for Maori, the process would need to reflect on people's potential rather than make judgments about where they are now. That is the process needs to employ more energy on solutions rather than a continued over-focus on the problems.

Malcolm Peri – speaking at facilitator training 2001

Traditional Maori Principles Involved in Conflict Resolution

The following materials are primarily from the Ministry of Justice publication, He Hinatora ki te Ao Maori – a glimpse into the Maori world, (March 2001).

Although discussed here in the past tense as a description of traditional Maori society, these concepts and principles are very relevant for many Maori today, and facilitators need to be aware of and respect these concepts when dealing with Maori throughout the restorative justice process. When restorative justice participants are from different cultures, facilitators need to help them to bridge the differences in the culturally based assumptions and preferences that they bring to the process. This can only be done when facilitators have an awareness of these differences. For example an assumption of munakore or non-confidentiality in the restorative justice process may contrast with other participants' culturally-based preference for privacy or confidentiality to be maintained. The facilitator who understands this and is able to discuss this with both groups will be able to help them to reach an understanding.

Kinship and collective responsibility

Maori social structure was based on descent, seniority and the kinship groupings. Maori recognised four kinship groups:

Whanau – the basic unit of Maori society into which an individual was born and socialised.

Hapu – the basic political unit within Maori society, concerned with ordinary social and economic affairs and making basic day-to-day decisions.

Iwi – the largest independent, politico-economic unit in Maori society. An iwi would be identified by its territorial boundaries, which were of great social, cultural and economic importance.

Membership in these groups and the right to participate was principally based on whakapapa, that is, genealogy and the basis on which an individual or a group of people determines their identity. A person can draw on their whakapapa in order to forge links with their tipuna (ancestors). Whakapapa may also determine the role and relationships an individual operates under within their whanau, hapu and iwi. It defines both the individual and kin groups and governs the relationships between individuals and kin groups.

Traditional Maori society was largely based around collective responsibility. Individualism and individual responsibility was uncommon, with individuals deemed to be a unit of the group. Therefore, the group's interests overrode those of the individual. The individual's rights, responsibilities and obligations were determined by their standing in the community and his or her relative mana and tapu in relation to others. The individual was simply a representation of the social groups that constitute Maori society and the behaviour of an individual was be carefully observed as their actions could affect the mana of the group.

If an individual wronged another individual or kin group, the whanau and hapu of that individual would have to take responsibility for those actions.

Individual rights were indivisible from the whanau, hapu and iwi welfare. Each had reciprocal obligations tied to the precedents handed down by tipuna, and whanau had to accept the consequences of a member's wrongdoing.

"If I was the one who offended in the whanau ... the muru would take place on my whanau and not just on me, and my whanau will accept that and compensate them for my hara..." (Kaumatua Interview, Wellington, 8 April 1999 He Hinatora ki te Ao Maori, p40)

The Maori kinship system was thus an all embracing one, relating every individual in some degree with every other one, at varying degrees of remove from whanau, hapu and iwi, and linking every individual to a line of ancestors stretching back to Ranginui and Papatuanuku.

Values and principles

Traditional Maori communities, and contemporary communities that adhered to Maori values and social controls, dealt with cultural transgressions in a Maori way. The Maori system of law was based on values and, being a values-based system, Maori adhered to principles rather than rules.

Generally transgressions were resolved fairly quickly because of the need to restore the balance, whether it is in social, spiritual or cultural relationships.

Factors that were deemed to have contributed to the dynamics of a dispute were:

Te whakapapa o te mea i hara The status of the offender

Te whakapapa o te mea i whara The status of the offended

To raua whanaungatanga The relationships of the parties involved

Te tikanga i takahia The tikanga that were transgressed

He ngakau kino, he kuare ranei Whether the transgression was intentional or unintentional

Te whakatau a nga kaumatua Intervention by kaumatua

A number of principles, which can be applied generally or specifically, determined how a resolution was brought about. These principles can be summarised as follows:

Kaumatua (respected elders) and rangatira (Chiefs) played a significant role in addressing transgressions and restoring relationships. Their wisdom drew the collective group together to address transgressions of cultural values and lead the group towards a resolution. At other times they would talk or act on behalf of the collective group.

All members of the community, individually or collectively, were required to maintain, enforce, uphold and sustain the community's cultural values and mana. They were also responsible for ensuring that children were taught appropriately and protected from harm spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally, even to the point of correcting other people's children.

Each person was recognised as a representative of the kin group and had a responsibility to work together. Whanaungatanga (derived from the word "whanau" and describing people with common blood) allowed people to make links within and was the key principle that bound together the whanau, hapu and iwi. It defined the relationships between members of the kin group, the respect they showed for those relationships through their obligations and the responsibility they took for an individual's actions.

Korero tawhito (ancient, oral traditions) were one means for establishing the law of traditional society. They explained why certain chains of events occurred and established precedents for appropriate behaviour. Korero tawhito reflected the thought concepts, philosophies, ideals, norms and underlying values of Maori society. The values that derived out of korero tawhito were the basis for the integrity, harmony and balance of Maori society. The values represented ideals, which were not necessarily achievable but something to aspire to.

Aroha was an expression of love, care, respect and affection in its widest sense. It was the essential element in interpersonal relationships. It began from birth and continued till death. Aroha encompassed respect, friendship, concern, hospitality and the process of giving. Thus every person was concerned for and respected the rights of others. In short, it was valuing another person.

Mana and tapu are fundamental concepts that governed the infrastructure of traditional Maori society. These concepts have both been attributed single-worded definitions by contemporary writers. As concepts, especially Maori concepts, they cannot easily be translated into a single English definition. Both mana and tapu take on a whole range of related meanings depending on their association and the context in which they are being used.

The mana and tapu principles were the source of both order and dispute in Maori society. Mana and tapu were the practical forces of the kawai tipuna (revered ancestors) at work in everyday matters.

Tapu acted as a corrective and coherent power within Maori society. It acted in the same way as a legal system operated with a system of prohibitory controls, effectively acting as a protective device. Everyone was required to protect their own tapu and respect the tapu of others.

Mana was central to many relationships and people were required to maintain, uphold and acknowledge the mana of others and themselves, or be forced to find ways to restore it. Mana was inherited through a direct link to tipuna and the kawai tipuna, and can also be acquired by an individual throughout the course of his or her life. Because personal and particularly collective mana were seen as important, Maori were careful to ensure that their behaviour and actions maintained that mana.

Utu was a reciprocation of both positive and negative deeds from one person to another, and a means of seeking, maintaining and restoring harmony and balance in Maori society and relationships. The aim of utu was to return the affected parties to their prior position – a means of restoring balance.

Utu was concerned with the maintenance of relationships between individuals and groups and balance within Maori society. It acted as an effective form of social control governing people's behaviour in relation to each other. Utu pervaded both the positive and negative aspects of Maori life, requiring some sort of response to given situations. The ensuing response was governed by the particular circumstances, and often involved mana and tapu.

Social, economic and political dealings were maintained through reciprocal exchanges of kindness, hospitality, and exchange of tangible goods and services. Hostile relationships could be restored through compensation if social, political and economic relations were disturbed.

In cases where utu was sought, the conventions of mana and tapu were necessarily present as utu governed relationships when a breach of tapu occurred or where mana was increased or lost through the actions of an individual or group.

Muru was a means for seeking justice in traditional Maori society, through compensation and retribution where individuals, whanau or hapu were offended. The form of compensation usually involved the offended party taking property belonging to the offender or kin group of the offender.

Essentially, muru was a form of utu; however, the difference between muru and utu is that if the muru were followed through, there would be no further obligations bestowed on either party. The party who had the muru performed on them did not respond to the muru. They accepted the blame apportioned to them for offences.

Muru acted as a form of restorative justice. The protocols and practices involved in a muru would be determined by various factors, including the mana of the victim or offender, the degree of the offence and the intent of the offending party. Both the victim and the transgressor could view the muru process positively because of the benefits both received through it. The offender's mana would be recognised as a result of the muru process, as would the victim's. Also the victim and his or her associated social or kin groups would be compensated through the muru process. Thus, muru was an effective form of social control, governing the relationships between kin and groups.

Utu in its purest form conveys a sense of reciprocity. A muru sought to redress a transgression with the outcome of returning the affected party back to their original position in an active manner. This was the restorative nature of a muru. The transgressor disturbed the balance of society by offending against another, so the equilibrium had to be restored through processes such as muru and utu.

A muru had a set protocol and process. Before a muru was actually engaged, the matter of what would be taken and the quantity of the produce was discussed in great detail. This korero process was known as the whakawa. The dialogue was often quite formal and structured. It included dialogue of accusation and investigation from which there would be a decision or judgement.

Whakama (embarrassment/shame) was a pivotal concept in muru, and acted as an effective deterrent, particularly when one's actions were seen to impact on the wider kin group. It could occur at an individual or a group level. If whakama occurred at individual level, the wider group would become involved eventually.

The actions of an individual could bring about collective whakama, which could affect the whanau, hapu and iwi. The intensity of that whakama depended on the action and the event. The whakama aspect of a muru had a direct effect on the whanau of the offender in that the whanau had to watch and see their goods being taken in compensation for the offence of their relation.

Usually it was not only one person that was affected by a transgression on them. It was often the case that the whole whanau would feel aggrieved so the actual injured party had some support to lean on during the course of the healing process.

Involving the offender's whanau in the resolution process was an effective method of deterrence as the offender could see how their actions impacted on the whole whanau; how their whanau succumbed to whakama. As a result, the individual also experienced whakama, usually to a greater degree than the whanau, as the individual bore the burden of the actions and sullied the name of the whanau, hapu or iwi.

Akoako (consultation) was a priority. This was usually achieved through the process of a gathering or hui. The principle was to gather as many people as possible to discuss the topic to allow them to have an input and build their mana by saying their views. This was imperative to the process of resolving issues.

Munakore (non-confidentiality) was an important part of the spirit of full consultation, where nothing was withheld, good or bad, and all opinions were voiced.

Maori Traditional Conflict Resolution Protocols

Karakia - prayer opens the gathering. This is to ensure the safety of the people and to ensure that all stages are carried out without disturbance. Karakia can be a good way to open and close a conference, if the parties agree.

Whai korero - speeches - mihi. Traditionally only the experts in the art of Whai korero (oratory) would stand to speak to the opposite group. The purpose of the mihi is to acknowledge and weave together the past, present and future, by acknowledging the creator, guardians, the hunga mate (the dead), the hunga ora (the living - those present at the gathering) and laying down the take or kaupapa (the reason) for the event that will take place.

Waiata - singing. Singing provides a glimpse of a person's genealogy, tribal, sub-tribal and family history. It also allows a person to express their feelings.

Te waa whakangahau - elaborating on whakapapa.

Te kaupapa - the topic at hand.

Te whakawhitiwhiti korero - discussions.

Te waa rangimarie mo te tupaapaku - discussions for the victim/whanau.

Te whakawhirinaki korero - conclusions.

Korero whakatau - support of concluding remarks.

Waiata – singing.

Karakia – prayer.

Hakaari - mealtime/feast. This is the final stage of the meeting. It is the stage where parties come together as one through the sharing of kai.

Customary Practices of Non-Maori Minority Cultures

Facilitators are likely frequently to be working with groups where the cultures of the offender and the victim are different, and either or both may be different from the facilitator's own.

The cultural practices listed below are not intended as a definitive exposition on the customs of different cultures. However they provide a brief insight into the types of different cultural practices that may influence the conferencing process.

Facilitators are advised to consult with participants on customary practices they may wish to incorporate into the conference process. The process of conferencing best achieves its objectives if participants are able to communicate their feelings of anger, remorse, apologies, etc. Facilitators need to be aware that different cultures react differently to this aspect of communication.

The following are comments on some cultural matters relevant to the environment of a restorative justice conference. These may be helpful insights, but must not be seen as the last word on an important topic. How people communicate with each other is fundamental to the communications which restorative justice aspires to.

Tongan Customary Practices

Principles underlying the fundamentals of restorative justice are the same principles found in Fakalelei or reconciliation in Tongan communities. Fakalelei involves the offender's family, relatives and support group visiting the victim's family, relatives and support group to seek reconciliation in a non-violent way.

The initiative by the offender's family is the opportunity for them to publicly apologise to the victim and family for the offence that happened, the damage that has been done and the inconvenience incurred. It is also to acknowledge the anger, frustration, hurt and pain that are experienced by the victim, the family and relatives. At the same time, the offender's family expresses the guilt, the shame, the disgrace and the destruction that the offender has brought to the family. Dialogue between the two groups takes place until such time that all of what is needed to be said is expressed and hence reconciliation is reached.

In response, the victim's family has the freedom to accept or reject the apologies made.

A prayer can be an appropriate way to close the conference for two purposes:

  1. It rounds off the conference
  2. It seals off the new Covenant of Reconciliation that has just been entered into.

Agreement on reconciliation is not done by written agreements but with words of orators who appropriately express it for people whose oral culture is still very much alive and strong. There is no one standard for achieving Fakalelei. There are as many ways of achieving the goal, as there are families involved. Each family may have their own protocol influenced by social status, religious belief and educational background. It is fair to say that restorative justice is part of the Tongan culture and each family knows the best way that works for them in a reconciliation process.

Samoan Customary Practices

Samoa is a traditional society with a distinctive Polynesian cultural heritage. All fa'aSamoa (Samoan lifestyles and traditions) cultural values mirror restorative justice values. In Samoa the aiga (extended family) is all-important. The larger the aiga, the more important it is and more power it can wield in community affairs. The family and community group is the centre of Samoan traditional society. The individual has less priority. Facilitators working with parties of the Samoan culture must have some understanding of the kinship relations operating within Samoan culture - including the concept of respect for elders and the significance of the brother/sister relationship.

Traditional authority is vested in the matai, or chief, of the village. Each extended family or aiga has at least one matai at its head, appointed by consensus of the aiga. Matai have family, civic, and political duties to perform.

Traditionally, every family has a matai that is a member of the fono (council) and represents the interests of the family. The fono is responsible for administering justice within the village and can pass down a wide range of judgements upon a wrongdoer. The leader of the fono is called the ali'i, and is assisted by a pulenu'u. The ali'i was considered to be far too important to be bothered with actually discussing people's problems and so the position tulafale (talking chief) arose.

Where both parties in the restorative justice process are Samoan, the matai of both family groups need to be involved in the process.

However, the usefulness of the family matai is largely dependent on the cultural perceptions of the participants involved in the conference. Some participants may prefer to totally go the Palagi (European) way and not be assisted by any particular cultural factors. This too must be respected.

Samoan village protocols do not exist in New Zealand. However harmony and reconciliation for participants' cultural community can be promoted by promoting participation from the community such as the participants' extended family and church in the process.

Facilitators should try to gain information from the participants sufficient to identify appropriate cultural protocols for the conference. This may include:

  • religious background
  • family matai
  • preferred language
  • does the participant come from "traditional" Samoan culture?
  • have they recently emigrated to New Zealand?

Cultural factors can be minimal for less traditional participants. It cannot be assumed that particular protocols apply simply because participants are from a certain culture. The individual participants and any similar cultural foundation that can be established between them govern relevant protocols for a conference.

How to work across cultures

The first part of this module has dealt primarily with background knowledge that is important to work with the Maori participants in restorative justice conferencing. This part of the module deals with some ideas on the how of working across cultures. Any guides cannot be exhaustive so what follows are ideas that will enhance your practice as a restorative justice facilitator.

Restorative justice facilitators will recognise that all of us bring our culture to any interaction. Firstly, to be effective we need to recognise what we do and don't know in order to work within our levels of experience and competency. Secondly, we need to know where to go in order to get the proper information. If we follow these two starting points then we can minimise our own anxiety and be more effective in our practice.

Many people welcome a sense of interest in their culture from others and are willing to share what is important to them. In some ways this is about effective engagement, a key skill set for restorative justice facilitators. Participants often have the fundamental question; "Can I trust this person to be fair and do they understand what this experience has been like for me?"

One of the challenges for facilitators of restorative justice conferences is to think carefully about assumptions that are made based upon ethnicity. (This of course also applies to assumptions based on gender, sexual preferences, class and so forth.)

When talking with prospective participants of restorative conferences, the differences they have in terms of their links into their culture of origin may or may not be apparent. This diversity will include place of origin, upbringing, continued adherence to cultural ideas and processes, and linkages to places that support cultural identity. The exercise on the next page is useful to consider the differences in cultural groups and what the facilitator needs to take into account.

Some ideas for working across cultures

When preparing for a cross-cultural restorative justice conference, facilitators may be guided by the following practice ideas:

Be prepared to ask

  • When dealing with participants from any culture use common sense and don't be afraid to inquire or ask about what they might require for the process to be safe. The participants themselves are the only people who can tell you exactly what they want or need.
  • Acknowledge the limitations of your knowledge and don't be afraid to seek advice from someone of their culture on how you can ensure that the restorative justice process is culturally appropriate.

Know where to access cultural knowledge

  • Each family has its own kawa (rules that govern behaviour) so in many cases the families will hold the keys to what you need to know in order to set up the conference.
  • Your provider group will have in place a list of resource people that can act as cultural consultants when needed. If not start developing one.

Be thoughtful in interactions and respect people's cultures

  • Keep in mind that you may be considered a foreigner in a Maori, or Pacific Island household - or the home of any other participant. It is up to you to learn about the protocols that you may need to follow.
  • Do not assume that you are needed, that you are right or should be in control; be respectful at all times.
  • Spend time in informal social exchanges with family members in particular any present elders or community/extended family support. Talk, listen, be seen, and help out where appropriate. Be flexible about your role, being prepared to change gears if necessary. Respond to the level of formality of the people you are meeting.
  • Learn who is related to whom, and how this may affect or assist conference process and outcomes.

Keep appropriate boundaries

  • Avoid professional jargon; explain processes and written forms clearly.
  • Make yourself as available as possible; accept that at times appointments cannot be made, or will not always be honoured. For example people of other cultures may have an expectation that they can turn up and be seen immediately.
  • Develop team relationships with other support workers who can help you learn more about cultural resources and dynamics, including values. Ask for feedback from them; don't let yourself become isolated.
  • Always respect traditional beliefs and practices. Be clear about when these may conflict with the role and task that you have. These are important supervision issues.
  • Remember that spiritual matters may be private, so do not pry or watch.
  • Be careful what you say about other parties; remember that your attitude and ability to keep confidentiality will be examined, and that the person you are speaking with and about will probably be related.
  • Be willing to adjust your attitude / expectations, understand and accept that you are working with complicated and long-term problems in a culturally based values system you do not entirely understand.

Some general ideas to consider:

  • Be aware that it would be inappropriate in some cultures for a male facilitator to meet alone with a woman participant, or vice versa.
  • Be aware that other cultures may have different protocols with regard to physical contact - both men and women should avoid physical contact with parties beyond normal greetings etc.
  • Be aware that gestures and expressions may have different meanings in other cultures. For example, lack of eye contact is a sign of respect in a number of cultures.
  • Do not assume that any person either will or will not meet your expectations of people of their culture.

Exercise 4.1: Maori restorative justice processes

1. List the core values and principles that sit behind a Maori restorative justice approach.

2. What have been the main concerns about the current criminal justice system in relationship to Maori aspirations?

How does the traditional marae based justice process mirror that of the restorative justice process? What is similar and what is different?

Exercise 4.2: To understand another culture you must understand your own

Part 1: In order to understand another culture it is important to understand your own. In the first part of this exercise you are asked to consider carefully what your culture means to you. In Part 2 of the exercise you are then asked to explore another cultural position and then compare the two positions.

  1. How is my culture organised? (How is status defined, what is the place of men, women and children, what is given importance etc?)
  2. What are the main ideas and beliefs about the role of family in my culture?
  3. How is crime and punishment dealt with in a traditional sense in my culture?
  4. What contemporary approaches to resolving conflict and/or crime are used?

Part 2: Choose a culture different than your own and as an exercise find out the following information.

  1. How is this culture organised? (How is status defined, what is the place of men, women and children, what is given importance etc?)
  2. What are the main ideas and beliefs about the role of family in this culture?
  3. How is crime and punishment dealt with in a traditional sense in this culture?
  4. What contemporary approaches to resolving conflict and/or crime are used?
  5. What are my knowledge gaps about this culture?
  6. Who in my community could act as a resource to me so that I could understand this culture better?

Exercise 4.3: Similarities & differences across cultures

  1. Where there is a conflict as to where the conference should be held, whose view should prevail?
  2. What outcomes can be achieved in a traditional cultural setting that cannot be achieved in a Court setting?
  3. What steps might you undertake to ensure cultural safety?
  4. How would you properly identify the communities to which the parties belong?
  5. When is a prayer appropriate – how do you determine this?
  6. How might you deal with a situation where a victim needs to hear directly from the offender when elders are speaking on their behalf?