I had the pleasure of meeting with Dominic Barter in Rio de Janeiro in July 2010. I had heard of his restorative circles work last year and was interested in learning more about it.

Dominic is from England and has lived in Rio for about 18 years. His background includes experience with theater and drama. He is a teacher and he said he developed the restorative circle process because, “I had to do something about the violence and conflict in the favelas. If I didn’t get involved and work to do something to improve things I would have had to leave the country.”

The favelas are where thousands of impoverished people live in Brazil. They are what many call slums, ghettos or shanties. They are piles of structures built without any permits, engineering expertise or government assistance. Roads, water and electricity are severely lacking. During a recent rainy season in Brazil many people were killed when water washed out the foundations for many of the poorly constructed homes in the favelas.

Dominic explained his restorative circle model briefly and said it uses an opening statement that is similar to the one used for Real Justice conferencing. The Real Justice script is on line at: http://www.realjustice.org/articles.html?articleId=662. Dominic also described pre-circle caucuses with parties before they meet in a restorative circle to prepare them for the process. And he said that during the circle after someone speaks, the person listening is asked to repeat back what they heard. “It is amazing how people sometimes don’t hear what was said,” Dominic said. I also understand the Dominic’s circle model uses Marshall Rosenberg’s non-violent communication principles.

An article in the July 14, 2010 Santa Cruz Good Times newspaper states: “Barter views conflict as something to engage with and fully express rather than ‘resolve.’ He explains the difference: ‘Implicit in the idea of conflict resolution is that conflict is a problem. I view conflict as a message and really the choice is to either receive the message or ignore it. If we label conflict or violence as bad, then politically that is so handy because what we do is condemn the frustrated expressions of anger and powerlessness by those who are most marginalized.’”  The idea that conflict is not something that is “resolved” and instead is “managed” makes sense to me. Life on our planet necessarily includes conflict…we live and we die and that fact is not resolved, but our attitudes about it can be managed.

Here in Hawai’i we have also developed a restorative circle process, but our process is not a general conflict management process like the one Dominic has developed. Ours is a reentry planning process for incarcerated people who meet with harmed loved ones to address reconciliation and how to meet their other needs for a positive life. To distinguish our process from Dominic’s and other’s in the world using the name restorative circles, we renamed our process to Huikahi Restorative Circles. Huikahi is the combination of two Hawaiian words: “hui” which means a group of people, and “kahi” which means individual. The name was kindly provided by a wonderful Native Hawaiian prison administrator who recognizes the importance of healing for incarcerated people and their loved ones.