Rupert Ross’s Returning to the Teachings

For some time my friend Tom Porter has urged me to read Rupert Ross’s, Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal Justice (Penguin, 1996, 2006). I just finished it with the question, why didn’t I get to this book sooner? Tom is Director of JustPeace, the United Methodist organization for mediation and conflict transformation.

This is the best book I have read on Native American roots of a restorative approach to seeking healing and justice in our communities. It fills out the meaning of the Cherokee idea of “duyukta,” so central to Red Clay, Blood River, in a profoundly helpful way.

Ross has spent over twenty years as a Crown Attorney in Canada, working primarily among First Nation communities, especially the Cree and Ojibway. These experiences have taught him the reasons that our Western adversarial and retributive system does not produce healing nor help prevent harm to persons and communities.

Whereas we proceed with lists of offences and punishments, communities that preserve and recover ancient traditions of communal virtues seek restitution and reintegration. Whereas we have to develop elaborate safeguards for individuals over against a punitive state, they seek ways to assess and heal the broken relationships at the heart of destructive behavior.

Because Ross has worked in both worlds he has developed an acute sense of the limits of the two systems and ways they need to interface. He is aware of the accumulated dysfunctionality of Aboriginal and Native American communities trapped in the dominant legal, economic, and political systems. What he wants to do is to recover ancient teachings and values in order to bring about greater healing in communities ravaged by domestic violence and social disorder.

He quotes Diana LeResche, a tribal peacemaking consultant: “Peacemaking…[is concerned with] ‘sacred justice.’ Sacred justice is that way of handling disagreements that helps mend relationships and provides solutions. It deals with the underlying causes of the disagreement.” (25)

Through many case studies he shows us the importance of creating social processes that enable people to create “healthy connections.” This entails a “double obligation, requiring first that you learn to see all things as interconnected and second that you dedicate yourself to connecting yourself, in respectful and caring ways, to everything around you, at every instant, in every activity.”

As Lanier Johnson says to Marie, “Connection is the name of the ecological game.” (Red Clay, Blood River, 32) A deep ecological perspective is also at the heart of justice. It is the way of duyukta.

3 thoughts on “Rupert Ross’s Returning to the Teachings”

  1. I’m in the process of reading Rupert Ross’s, Dancing With a Ghost and have just ordered his Returning to the Teachings. I believe these books should be required reading for all people who work in the service professions and everyone else for that matter.

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