make amends, and forgive."
Guided by the Native American principles of respect, the importance of relationships, and responsibility, the program aims to replace traditional adversarial decision making with more comprehensive solutions and a focus on healing relationships. Potential cases are selected by Connors and transferred to the peacemaking court only if all parties agree to participate and to abide by any resulting agreement.
Instead of Connors hearing a case from the bench, trained peacemakers meet in a circle with participants. All members of the circle have a "collective responsibility" to reach a resolution, Connors says. A "talking piece" is passed from hand to hand, and when a peacemaker poses a question about the issue in dispute, the person holding the talking piece is free to speak without interruption. "All participants have relinquished control to the talking piece," explains Connors.
The court developed from Connors' relationship with tribal judge Michael Petoskey, who introduced the concept to Michigan's tribal courts. Although most peacemakers in the county program are trained mediators, Connors says peacemaking court differs from court-ordered mediation because a facilitator does not control the process and outcome--"the circle itself" does. Right now Connors is considering juvenile, family, elder law, and business cases. "We're not considering serious injury, sexual assault, or domestic violence cases," Connors says. "Ultimately, as people become more comfortable [with peacemaking], there may be more applications."