Mi Peacemaker Project

Paul Kenna

Paul Kenna is a NMAS Accredited Mediator, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, Family Lawyer and Barrister. He is an innovative and passionate supporter of appropriate dispute resolution and making use of technology to improve human outcomes.

At the recent National Mediation Conference Joanne and I were approached by a man with a mission.  Ron was representing the “Oenpelli Peacemakers” from Gunbalanya Community in Arnhem Land in Northern Territory.  He came to this conference looking for help to change the violence and community conflict that was plaguing his community.  I’m not sure what he was thinking when he turned up at a national conference for professional mediators but his passion and dogged determination made us sit up and listen.

We spoke with Ron about how empowering processes such as mediation, family group conferencing and restorative justice practices may be used in a cultural context to help the community to rebuild. His goal is to turn around the antisocial practices that was making living in their community uncomfortable  or even dangerous.  He told us of a breakdown of respect between the young people and the elders and the lack of motivation, the fighting and the continued drift away from culture that he wants to reverse.

We had a couple of good discussions with Ron at the conference  and have been continuing the conversation by telephone in the weeks since.  We committed to seeing what we can do to help without seeking to impose our view of the world and solutions on their problems. 

Joanne and I will be spending a week there in early August, which is about as soon as our current calendar commitments allow.

In preparation we are looking  at how we might be able to help and the resources we can access.    Ron and we all believe that Mediation is a powerful process, but we know that it isn’t a silver bullet to success.

We intend to look at how we can support leaders with training in mediation skills to help them to work in the community.  Ron knows his community far better than I but I don’t know that training community members to NMAS standards would be enough to work the magic that is required.  After all that was tried in the past.


Learning from the past

I did a literature search and found this article in the NT Law Society Journal in 2012 where a project was done to accredit local people in Gunbalanya with NMAS qualifications. 

The report of the project and a more in depth article painted a very positive ambition for the process.  It appears that like so many projects that have funding to intervene but not to sustain the ambitions for the project have not yet been achieved. 

We don’t want to make the same mistakes from the past and need to look carefully what resources and supports are needed to help such an initiative to work into the future.

One early discussion canvassed the need for mentoring and support for the peacemakers in the community. 

Would practising mediators in other parts of the country be willing to build a professional relationship with an individual community mediator to support them remotely in their work? 

Would the community mediators want that?

What can we learn from other projects in other communities?

The internet available in Gumbalanya is OK and would support video meetings although the understanding of the technology in the community may be lacking. 

We don’t see such an arrangement as one sided. We are sure that the learnings would flow both ways.

Are you interested?

If there are any mediators who would like to participate in such a project use the form below to send me an email.

This would allow me to make such an offer to the community to consider.  This is not a paying gig but we would be happy to train any participants with our Professional Supervisor training as a recognition of your commitment should you feel you need to polish up these skills.

Our Family Group Conferencing training is more focussed on helping families work with services when there are concerns about the safety of a child or young person in the family. It is particularly relevant for Aboriginal Communities where removing a child from their family and putting them into foster care can have massively negative flow on effects in terms of loss of culture, country and language. Issues related to crime in the community may also see the need for a modified form of restorative justice in the approach to trying to rebuild a functional social structure and pride in the community.

As I said I am not approaching this project with a fixed view of what is needed. We are going to visit, to talk and listen. To share stories and to offer what we can.

We think that training more peacemakers with mediation and facilitation skills and principles may be helpful but time will tell.

National Reconciliation Week is not just about big ticket issues like the adoption of the Statement from the Heart, which is at last at least getting some constructive consideration by our government, but also small project that have a direct impact on peoples lives.  Our approach is to directly assist when we can, which has got MI working in Kenya and East Africa as well as the USA, and not rely on the political or government process to do everything for everyone. 

We would welcome anyone who would like to walk with us on this project, to share your knowledge and learn from our nations first people.  Use the form below to let us know if you are interested.


Positive SSL