Aboriginal Circle Keepers Graduate from UPEI Conflict Resolution Program

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The Centre for Conflict Resolution Studies at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) hosted a graduation to award the Certificate in Conflict Resolution Studies on October 15. Among the 32 graduates were 19 members of the PEI Aboriginal community. They graduated from the program qualifying them to be Circle Keepers for the Aboriginal Justice Program (AJP).

The Certificate program is one of the most comprehensive in Canada. It involves courses in Mediation, Facilitation, Negotiation, Circle Keeping, Dealing with Anger, Dealing with Strong Emotions and Resistance, Ethics and Conflict and Case Development. In addition, all graduates had to pass rigorous standards of a final assessment of mediation skills.

Professor Verner Smitheram, Director of the Centre stated that "the Mi'kmaq group demonstrated impressive dedication to their studies at the same time as they enhanced our program with their own traditions. These graduates showed remarkable social concerns that, I expect, in combination with their conflict resolving skills, will result in huge benefits to their communities."

"Today marks an important day for the Aboriginal community on Prince Edward Island," said Chief Darlene Bernard of Lennox Island First Nation. "With the Circle Keepers on PEI, we can now facilitate a better understanding between the Aboriginal community and the legal system."

The circle process, in conjunction with community support, introduces opportunities to help prevent Aboriginal people from entering the mainstream legal justice system. The Mi'kmaq Confederacy of PEI Aboriginal Justice Program (MCPEI AJP) endeavors to create a system that provides Aboriginal people with access to traditional forms of culturally appropriate justice. The MCPEI AJP provided the funding for the graduates, who completed 210 hours of training to become certified Circle Keepers.

The graduation ceremony featured the Sunrise Singers who performed the Eagle and Honour song. A painting by Gilbert Sark was also unveiled. The convocation address was given by Graydon Nicholas who was the first Aboriginal called to the bar east of Toronto in 1971. Nick Lewis of Lennox Island was the Class Valedictorian.

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Kate Harbinson
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