Harmony Tribe Restorative Justice Circle Update – Editorial

A Restorative Justice circle took place facilitated by Crystal Blanton,  guest at last summers  Sacred Harvest Festival (SHF) in August.  This Restorative Justice (RJ)  Circle was specifically to aid Harmony Tribe(HT) and its festivant community to move beyond the real ‘hurt and harm’ the individuals, organization, and festival had felt over the past year. When I wrote about it, I also committed to  updates  as the Harmony Tribe (RJ)  process evolved. I wrote then as a Harmony Tribe member, and as of this editorial, am now a member of the 2012 Harmony Tribe Council, as one of 15 Council Members at Large.

Please read that August editorial for a more complete back ground of RJ and this particular RJ Circle.

The purpose of this RJ Circle was:

“… to restore; to restore a sense of safety in a loving and empathetic community. We are not here to blame, or to cast judgment on who was right or wrong. It is a about how we can support our community together and heal the hurt and harm that has been caused by a series of events. “

And Crystal summarized the RJ Circle with:

“ What happens, Where do we go from here? We can not fix everything that has happened. We can not restore relationships without everyone present. We can restore what is here. We have not lost our community… what I have seen is that with time ,work, and a commitment to values, and the mirroring of those to each other, a community can be healed. “

The RJ Circle came forth with several Collective Agreements, promises each person present made to the Harmony Tribe community. These were jointly arrived at by consensus, and individually affirmed by those present as their own commitments. These were to facilitate this community to “move forward in the healing process with safety and trust”.

The agreements are:

  1. We will aid the process of developing commonly defined principles and values, and the primary purpose for our community (HT) so that the HT council can work for the whole of our community.
  2. Define how Harmony Tribe (and its community) can participate in the processes of community, beyond HT the organization.
  3. The HT Community commits to participate as they can – to show up.
  4. Find ways to solicit community support and input.
  5. Commit to developing a means for mentoring or transferring knowledge or roles within the organization.

How has Harmony Tribe and its community progressed toward meeting these commitments?

Values and Purpose:
When this RJ circle took place, the process of reviewing and reforming the Harmony Tribe bylaws and policies which defined the organization was already well underway.  The vision and focus were to identify and integrate collective values and a system of governance that reflected the organization, its history, and its community. The healing and inspirational nature of the RJ circle invigorated and motivated the Council and Membership to focus on tasks to accomplish this right after SHF, at a time when historically the organization had a few months of well deserved rest from activity.

HT began at the festival, compiling feedback from nearly 400 ‘leaves’ of written wishes,  statements from festivants of things to encourage or to let pass away within Harmony Tribe. These were collected from festivants,  documented, and then used in the final ritual of the festival, “Forest Home”.  Internally the HT council and organizational committee began working the week after the festival to create a concise ‘values statement’ that would guide the organization internally as a mission statement defines an organization to the public. Community input was sought from members, festivants, past members, and the HT Community through personal contact, HT Meetings, and facebook discussion. A large list of shared values was identified and then prioritized. The result, formed into two sentences, and appearing on each page of their website is:

“Harmony Tribe is a welcoming and diverse spiritual organization that embraces honesty, compassion, and inclusiveness. Through accountability and transparency we demonstrate respect for ourselves, our community, and that which we hold sacred. “

This statement contains the eleven most important values that Harmony Tribe holds as a community.

The HT Council also defined the organizational and personal values expected of members as they apply to the organizations functioning and member interactions. These were written into a Process Covenant which each member signs before their membership is accepted. Many organizations consider a mission statement enough to define its purpose. While that offers guidance as to “what to do” it offers no guidance for “how to do it”. Conflicts often arise when individuals interpret, act with expedience, or don’t recognize the values they exhibit in the organization name through their personal style and actions. A defined values statement and process covenant is a written guide for holding each other ‘lovingly accountable’ for HOW we act.

Processes of Community:
Harmony Tribe has not made significant progress defining how it, and its members and community can participate in processes of the broader community beyond the organization. It has made progress organizing itself better to inform the broader community what events, meetings, and issues present themselves, and improve its transparency in doing so. A team updating its website, facebook networking, and member access is helping here. The sense is that community outreach is a long-term goal that an organizational ‘house in order” will facilitate.

Community Commitment to Participate:

Many individuals, not actively involved in Harmony Tribe, made a commitment to participate with HT at the RJ Circle. The success of this commitment is difficult to assess. Harmony Tribe has grown its membership since August. HT has received feedback, input, verbal support and praise from out-state and remote SHF festivants and its community ‘Tribe’. This commitment, to be meaningful, implies that a community who participates in processes to heal and suggest solutions within a RJ Circle, must also be part of the tasks of creating those solutions. Words are not enough. Harmony Tribe is rebuilding itself as the community organization (in governance, vision, and values) that it was founded as.

Like a political slogan or sound bite,  ‘building community’  can just be a phrase we allow ourselves in our words and ideals when it is easy or someone is listening. Community is  also a feeling, felt after tangible events, deeds, and action. Community is fragile, and any conflict is an excuse for apathy and not participating. Many organizations either lack the desire or the commitment to seek community commitment and support. Organizations may structure themselves to unconsciously prevent community based on co-creation and participation to develop. HT has adopted a structure that opens itself to community participation on many levels.

Is there a larger HT community remaining that wishes to participate, and support an organization that takes these progressive steps?    Expression of that community RJ commitment remains to develop.

Path to Community Support and Input:
The RJ Circle helped Harmony Tribe to assess several impediments to community support. As HT grew and became an incorporated non-profit, HT increasingly modeled itself on a corporate governance structure. As plagues most small non profits, directors are elected by popularity or alliances rather than their dedication to their organization and its mission and values, and with an understanding of their role and the duties required in being a director. With a directors perception of elected authority, it is a common trend to lose organizational transparency and begin to operate based on access to information, personal relationships, and eventually personal interest.

How can volunteering in a noble public interest mission create organizational and community harm?

Eventually the perception of a hierarchy within an organizational community develops and the perception spreads outward. As community support erodes, the organizational work falls heavier on those also acting in ‘governance’. This encourages a feeling of righteousness in accommodating our friends and personal interests, as board governing power allows. The most common choice to halt this erosion process is to become more opaque in decision-making, isolating governance and thus completing the cycle of dwindling community support. While this rarely involves ‘fraud’ or ‘malice’ it quickly isolates an organization from its community of support.

This organization believes they must be transparent in their activities and decision-making. Community support will be rebuilt over time, with consistent and value driven actions. It is never easy to rebuild a base of support in a volunteer organization.

Harmony Tribe has also chosen to return to one of its founding ideals to gain community support. It has changed its governance structure, within its mission and the requirements of non-profit status, to also “explore tribal council process”. It has reduced its elected officers to three, that meet the requirements of non-profit status, but allow its governing body to swell to as many as 27 “Council Members at Large”. Officers hold little authority beyond service to the organization and the Council becomes the group who ‘does the work’ and so makes the decisions. The vision is that those creating Harmony Tribe and the festival will take ownership through direct involvement in decision-making, and holding each other ‘lovingly accountable’ for their commitments. Committees will manage contributions from the Council, HT Members, and other volunteers sharing the knowledge that is gained in event planning. Using a developing task based system, organized by month and documenting any resources needed, will help to pass organizational knowledge to new members and provide a basis for mentoring. Even the Officers have ‘helpers’ who can learn those jobs by participating.

RJ Circle and HT
A year ago, Harmony Tribe was expected to dissolve by many, from a dramatic disruption in governance. Inexperienced volunteers stepped into roles that they were unprepared for, and not mentored to perform. They did so because their experience with Sacred Harvest Festival had cemented a place of importance in their lives for them. There were many difficulties and some council and members left or became inactive. The forthright confrontation of the issues and feelings within the Restorative Justice circle has been rejuvenating for Harmony Tribe. While changes were already developing, the August RJ Circle is allowing the group to move forward with a sense of healing and safety as the circle intended. There are uncertain waters ahead for any event and organization in this time of economic hardship, and while continuing to rebuild a base of knowledge, experience, and community support.

The feeling at this years annual meeting and ‘Meet and Greet ‘ was one of happy and relaxed optimism. Missing was a sense of dread, stress, and election intrigue evident the past few years. It has a committed council of 15 people and another 25 members renewing. A mix of new people, those inspired by their experience at Sacred Harvest Festival, and past members; all excited with the new direction the organization has taken. Pagans often avoid conflict, and even the perception of conflict, because they don’t have or use the tools to deal with it positively. This group has a visible experience from their RJ circle to refer to, to pass on to others through the organizations structural changes, and tools and methods to create a positive outcome using their defined values, when conflict arises.

To quote Crystal’s favorite affirmation:   “Just sayin’ ”

Harmony Tribe is developing a new website that explains and documents all these changes and provides member transparency and access to all working documents. Contact HT for more information.

Nels Linde