By Marcus Lorenzo Penn
Upon entering the grounds for the 30th Annual Bioneers Conference, we were met with the sounds of excited chirping morning birds, the feeling of the bright sun, the sight of eagerly anticipating attendees, the colors of vibrant art and the beat of a soul stirring drum.
With this being my second Bioneers experience, I came with a new focus no longer distracted by the newness of it all or the desire to experience all that I could. This go round I was paying more attention to my visceral feelings and natural gravitations. With that being the case, among all the keynote speakers it was Jerry Tello who had the most resonance for me. As a transformational healing expert of Mexican descent, he brought a different approach to the audience other than all the previous keynote speakers. He didn’t provide a powerpoint or a video or a personal book reference or a prepared speech. He brought storytelling as his vehicle to inform the audience.
Tello used humor and metaphors, mixed with generational wisdom, incorporating raw emotional vulnerability to enlighten the attendees. His approach touched me (and I imagine much of the audience too) so deeply because it was offered so naturally and organically, felt as if I were in a living room with him sharing family memories. These native/indigenous cultural practices of community storytelling to impart knowledge and wisdom go back hundreds if not thousands of years. With the many acknowledgements of the native lands the Bioneers event takes place on, Tello’s approach was refreshing and seemed best fit among the presenters.
Themes of indigenous practices were continually drawing my attention this year and for that reason I gravitated to a workshop on Restorative Justice (RJ) practices. Restorative practices as opposed to punitive practices have communal and tribal origins. The Restorative Justice primary emphasis is around repairing a harm that has taken place and holding accountable BOTH/ALL parties involved in the healing and wholeness around that harm.
One of the presenters in the RJ workshop, Teiahsha Bankhead, MSW, PhD (Executive Director, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth – RJOY) gave a very impassioned and comprehensive perspective on Restorative Justice. What came up for me during this presentation was the memory of a past Peaceful World Lunch Conversation Event with our 2018 Grantee, The Mosaic Project. The facilitator back then spoke to peace as “conflict done well” and that very much had synergy with the message of the Bioneers RJ presenter.
One of the key indigenous derived practices of RJ are healing circles. These healing or restorative circles have specific elements that keep them effective, namely group consensus around values and guidelines with ceremony initiated by a designated circle keeper. This felt very reminiscent of our ongoing Peaceful World Breakfast and Lunch Conversations having facilitators and the 6 ingredients of a good conversation. This was a great reinforcement of the Peaceful World Foundation integrating healing indigenous traditions into its Conversations platform.
In conclusion, this year’s Bioneers Conference served the purpose of reminding us at the Peaceful World Foundation how crucial the practices are to allow people to tell their story in a safe value-oriented environment and to be surrounded by community that isn’t afraid to explore conflict together. Our founder, Sami Sunchild, had a vision of unity that was cultivated from the cultural traditions she encountered in her world travels. We at the Peaceful World Foundation honor her vision by sustaining the indigenous practices that shaped her worldview to bring people together in the name of peace.