Doing the research for my thesis, “Women Made of Story: Native American Women’s Stories of Survival,” one of my areas of interest for research was learning about any way any Native tribe had, historically, to resolve conflicts. I did learn of a few, and may write those up on the pages of the blog. But the most fascinating thing I ran across was a comment by Patricia Monture-Angus, a Mohawk from Canada: there was no need for conflict resolution, because they’d set up the society to be a society of peace.
Oh, every now and then someone would come along and create a disturbance, and then they had their way of dealing with the person. Maybe it was a man who was abusing his wife or children. Well, obviously he had forgotten his teachings — or perhaps there was no one there in his life at the right time to teach him? Did he miss having his grandmother around? And if that was the case, was there no one in the community who stepped in at that right moment when he was searching for what his grandmother had to teach him, who could fill in his missing information? How, then, was the community at fault? The community had to deal with its own introspection as well as the behavior of the offender. How could the tribe re-create the safe space, making the community safe once again, bringing the offender to accountability, repairing the harm done?
She recounted that the first step toward reconciling the offender was to speak to him, to find out what had happened — where was the missing information? Did he need to hear some stories? Would that do it?
The ultimate “punishment” was making the offender spend some time with a grandmother in the community. She would re-educate the man, find out where the gaps were in his upbringing, and fill in those gaps.
But, for the most part, the community functioned smoothly. There was a design and a purpose to the way the tribes were set up. The system was set up to assure that every job was taken care of by a certain clan; every clan had its specialty; and there was an equal division of labor, of social responsibility one to another, and of clan-to-clan “friendships” and duties. The communities were deliberately set up to be communities and systems of peace. There was no need for conflict resolution.
I took the Winnebago History classes in 2004-2005, taught that year by Felix White Jr. at Little Priest Tribal College. He shared with us the Winnebago Clan design that his dad and his dad’s peers put together, set up in the way they remembered it to the best of their ability. Subsequently I drew up the design on the computer and used that as the backdrop for the brochures and letterhead I created in my job as restorative justice specialist with the Winnebago Tribal Court for those years. The Winnebago Clans did the same thing: divided up the labor among the clans, giving each clan its specialty and its specific knowledge.
He explained to us that, for instance, it was always one clan’s responsibility to be the clan “in the front” when the tribe was on the move, acting as negotiators and diplomats when entering another tribe’s territory; and it was always another clan’s responsibility to be taking up the rear and to guard the perimeter of the tribe. There was a clan whose specialty was acting as chiefs or priests, communicating with the Creator. One clan was charged with gossip — or you could call it “public relations.” Water was an important resource to a tribe on the move, and there were several clans charged with dealing with water in several different ways. He taught us that there were four sky clans, four earth clans, and four water clans. As long as everyone was doing their job, there was no conflict within the tribe.
As time went on, one of the clans, the negotiator clan, was almost completely killed off — and the few remaining clan members chose to stay behind where their fellow clansmen died, to stay with their bones. The tribe marched on without their peacemaker clan: eleven warrior clans and no peace clan. Felix said his dad spent a considerable amount of time and research — and speculation — trying to locate any existing remnant of the peacemaker clan.
And he explained that the clan design showed who could marry whom — so that relatives did not marry each other. It also showed who was responsible for consoling those whose relatives died; that would be anyone from one of the two clans on either side of the dead person’s clan. If a Snake Clan member dies, you wouldn’t want someone else from the Snake Clan cooking food for the wake and the funeral, because they would be sorrowful, and all that energy of being sorrowful would be transferred into the food they would make for the gathered people. Instead, you have a Wolf Clan member or a Fish Clan member do the cooking and the preparing for the funeral.
Imagine a society where no one is really “in charge,” yet all of the community’s needs are taken care of, by the design of the community. There is no need for a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, board of directors, or any kind of power structure; everything works together because everyone wants the community to be successful, and everyone is collaborating from the place of their own strength and specialty and empowerment.
And there would be no need for conflict resolution. Because there wouldn’t be any.
Oh, once in a while, someone would go see a grandmother, get a chocolate chip cookie and a story and split her some firewood, and they’re good to go.