Kay Pranis teaches and writes about the dialog process known as "peacemaking circles." Kay learned about peacemaking circles in her work in restorative justice in the mid-1990s. Her initial teachers in the circle work were Barry Stuart, a judge in Yukon, Canada; and Mark Wedge and Harold Gatensby, First Nations people of Yukon. Since her initial "accidental" exposure to indigenous people's use of peacemaking circles, the circle has become the center of all of Kay's work: "The circle became a way for me to see how humans can live more successfully with each other and the natural world, balancing group and individual needs and gifts," Kay says. "The circle became a way to move to a kind of world that I want to live in."
Kay has since become an international leader in restorative justice and peacemaking through circle practices, which bring together victims, offenders, community members, and police officers to discuss how best to respond to a crime. She has also been involved in developing the use of peacemaking circles in schools, social services, churches, families, museums, universities, municipal planning and workplaces. She has a particular interest in the use of circles to support social justice efforts addressing racial, economic, class and gender inequities. That interest includes the use of peacemaking circles to understand and respond to historical harms to groups of people. The peacemaking circle process has been a source of energy, inspiration and continuous learning for Kay for the past 20 years.
Kay believes that social distance is the main cause for destructive and unjust policies. Peacemaking circles, then, break down that social distance by revealing the interconnectedness between individuals. "Everyone belongs in a circle. And the circle is always directed towards healing from the harm of disconnection." Kay said at the Chautauqua Institution
that she has learned over the years to resist the urge to solve conflict herself within the circle process and to let the group find its own way to a solution. “Sitting through the discomfort and the moments of panic … have given me a great confidence in the capacity of the group to find its way through thorny places,” she said, “if there’s a structure that honors each and gives each a turn, a voice.”
Kay served as the Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections from 1994 to 2003. Before that, she worked six years as the director of research services at the Citizen’s Council on Crime and Justice. She is the author of the basic text on circle practice, Little Book of Circle Processes: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking
, and co-author of several publications, including Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community; Engaging Communities in Public Plannin
g; Heart of Hope: A Guide for Using Peacemaking Circles to Develop Emotional Literacy
; and Promote Healing & Build Healthy Relationships
. Most recently she co-authored Doing Democracy – Using Circles for Community Planning
Kay now works primarily as a trainer in the peacemaking circle process. She is a Senior Associate at the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk University in Boston. She is also an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, Eastern Mennonite University and Southwest Minnesota State University.
Join us for a conversation with a pioneer in the field of circle practice and peacemaking, a champion of restorative justice, long-time colleague of Howard Zehr, and renowned trainer of national restorative justice leaders including Sujatha Baliga
Five Questions with Kay Pranis
What Makes You Come Alive?
Sitting in spaces where people drop the usual masks and protections and reveal themselves through their stories makes me come alive. I can sit for hours and hours listening to the stories of others. And I am often moved to tears by the stories of change and hope I hear from practitioners who have attended my circle training. Talking about the convergence of modern physics and ancient metaphysics energizes and animates me. Seeing connections lights me up.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
I cannot identify such a moment.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
The act of kindness that reverberates in my life is the friendship of Tahnahga. She is a part-Mohawk woman who grew up in New York State. I am the child of settlers who made their homes in Northern New York. My ancestors participated in taking over land that was her ancestors. She is a healer but struggles to make a living in this culture. I am able to make a living with work that is rooted in indigenous cultures. And she gives me the great gift of her support and encouragement of my work. To me it is an enormous act of kindness and forgiveness.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Have not had a conscious bucket list.
One-line Message for the World?
I do not have a message for the world - I have only my experience to share.