Reclaiming the Ticket: A Village's Circle Peacemaking Program

The Native Village of Kotzebue is located in the arctic region of northern Alaska, where they experience approximately eight to nine months of winter. The region is very remote, and the only method of transport to the area is by jet service. A large proportion of the population is Inupiat Eskimo. Many people are closely tied to their environment and utilize the land for subsistence purposes. In recent years, the community has faced a sharp rise in underage drinking. Another concern has been that youth do not always embrace traditional Inupiat values. To address this problem, the Tribal Youth Program and the community have worked to create a program that combines traditional and modern values through the use of talking circles, and a proven alcohol and drug education model. The TYP has adapted the Circle Peacemaking program to help instill traditional cultural values, or Inupiat Ilitqusiat, for youth who have received a violation through the use of talking circles. The circles include youth, family & community members, friends, at least one Elder and the Chief of Police of Kotzebue. A traditional value that is particularly relevant to the youth in attendance is used to frame the discussion, such as Knowledge of Language, Avoidance of Conflict, or Hunter Success. The philosophy behind the program is the youth will take the values they learn in the circle and use them to guide their lives and the decisions they make. A second function of the talking circles is to show youth that there are caring adults in their lives who will advocate for them. They enable youth to actively participate in the justice process in an environment where they feel supported in their struggles and empowered to change their behavior. The talking circles provide a safe place for youth to discuss difficult personal experiences, such as substance abuse, family violence, and depression. Sometimes parents or other family members also participate, which allow both youth and parents to have an open dialogue and learn from each other. Upon completion of the talking circles, youth are presented with the original ticket for their violation by the Chief of Police, to show they have completed the program successfully. This is also a symbolic gesture that a youth has reclaimed the ticket by taking action to change his or her behavior. Youth are required to complete at least three talking circles while in the program. The other component of the TYP is the Prime for Life alcohol and drug education course. All TYP youth are required to attend and complete the 12 hour course. The Prime for Life model provides researched based information that encourages youth to make healthy choices to protect the things they value. Program Coordinator Joe Garoutte is one of the instructors, and he begins the program by explaining to youth that while he can provide them with information, they must make their own decisions. He believes that because the issue is presented to youth as a choice, they are more likely to buy into the program and change their behavior. Mr. Garoutte believes that receiving the TYP grant was the impetus that pushed the community to examine some of the major issues faced by Inupiat youth. Using their TYP grant as a foundation, the community has developed solutions that comprehensively address these issues by uniting traditional and contemporary values. Currently, the rate of youth receiving Minor Consuming Alcohol violations is at an all time low. The community is very hopeful that the programs initiated by TYP will continue to flourish in the future. As Mr. Garoutte says, “This is about us and our children. We are the only people who have the answers.”

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“If we build a good human being, we don’t have to worry about anything else.” -Joe Garoutte, Program Coordinator