Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Aboriginal Communities, Restorative Justice, and the Challenges of Conflict and Change - Book Review
5 Pages Posted: 16 May 2013
Date Written: 2007
Will the Circle be Unbroken? is an important and timely contribution to the ongoing debates about restorative justice practices in Canada. In particular, it begins the essential task of closely examining particular models of restorative justice in context, rather than the generalist approach that much of the literature within this debate has taken. In this case, Carol La Prairie and Jane Dickson-Gilmore take an in-depth look at sentencing circles, a practice that usually takes place within Aboriginal communities, but that is initiated and controlled by the non-Aboriginal judiciary.
The basic premise of the book is that restorative justice generally, and sentencing circles in particular, have made huge promises of healing and rejuvenation to vulnerable and dependant Aboriginal communities without delivering. La Prairie and Dickson-Gilmore assert rightly that restorative justice practices such as the sentencing circle have not been sufficiently scrutinized and evaluated up to this point. Central to their argument is the notion that Aboriginal culture is a problematic fulcrum on which to rest legal reforms such as sentencing circles.
While I agree with much of the book's analysis, particularly its critique of the on-the-ground practice of sentencing circles, there are a number of places where the authors and I part company. Specifically, the authors posit the notion that Aboriginal culture and tradition are depleted and dead due to colonialism, and no longer a viable basis for legal reform. The roots of my discomfort with this assertion lie in two places, first in their definitions and understandings of what actually constitute restorative justice, and second in the notion that colonialism has decimated and rendered impotent Aboriginal "culture."
Keywords: Aboriginal communities, restorative justice, Canada, sentencing circles, non-Aboriginal judiciary control, non-Aboriginal judiciary, colonialism, Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal traditions, law, legal reform
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