1 June 2021

MEDIA RELEASE: Melissa Stubbings reflects on Indigenous mediation

Tuesday 1 June 2021

As the 20th anniversary of reconciliation week begins, Melissa Stubbings, one of Australia’s leading Indigenous mediators, reflects on the power of mediation within the Indigenous community. She believes that community mediation is the key to healing rifts within the Indigenous community caused by generations of oppression and racism. This healing and the provision of a united Indigenous front, she believes, is a pre-requisite for steps being taken towards true reconciliation in Australia.

Melissa is especially interested in using mediation to combat lateral violence within indigenous communities. “Lateral violence” Melissa explains “is a term used to describe behaviours used by communities or groups of people against each other meaning laterally.  Communities or groups who have been oppressed will use the same tools of oppression against each other as they have no power to fight against those who oppress them. It destroys communities and sets us back on our path to reconciliation.”

Although national mediation standards and procedures mean that there is little difference in the structure of a mediation which takes place in Indigenous communities to that of more traditional mediation, Melissa draws inspiration from ancient, pre-colonial forms of mediation which took place historically to inform her practice today.

“Traditionally, there was a tribal council where everyone had a voice in how they were affected by the conflict and how to solve the issue. The kind of round-table discussion embraced in mediation is not a new concept for Indigenous people but one that’s been lost over time and is being rediscovered,” says Melissa.

Using these historical forms of mediation as inspiration, Melissa has shaped and adapted the national mediation standards to best suit the realities on the ground in Indigenous communities.

“The pre-mediation conference is hugely important for Indigenous communities” Melissa says, referring to the practice whereby mediators meet with and learn about conflicting parties before mediation takes place. Not only does this help better understand the nature of the conflict taking place, but it also helps parties become more familiar and comfortable with the upcoming process and mediator.

“From the outside” Melissa says, “mediation can look a little like yet another authority process, especially when it’s been ordered by a judge. This kind of process carries significant cultural signifiers and stigma, which can suffocate the power of a community mediation before it has even begun.”

Sadly, however, there is little funding going into community mediation either by governments or third-party charities, especially for the kind of extensive pre-mediation undertaken by mediators like Melissa. Processes like this, mediation advocates argue, not only help defuse the current situations without the involvement of the criminal justice system but give tools to communities to solve disputes and conflicts internally and smoothly.

“Fundamentally, a lack of funding in these areas is actually just costing us more money in the criminal justice system. By the time the police are involved, there have already been a large number of opportunities for preventing conflict that have been missed,” Melissa argues. 

Melissa is a member of Resolution Institute, which shares her vision of mediation as a key tool for making progress towards reconciliation in Australia. Resolution Institute has many members who are indigenous mediators and offers training, accreditation and nomination services to help ensure further the goal or reconciliation.

About Resolution Institute

Resolution Institute is the largest dispute resolution membership organisation across Australia and New Zealand, with over 3000 mediators, arbitrators, adjudicators, conciliators, restorative justice practitioners, and other dispute resolution professionals as its members. It supports its members through providing educational tools, networking opportunities and access to robust accreditation and grading systems. 

Please direct media queries to:

Sean Brogan
Public Affairs Manager, (Australia and New Zealand)
Phone: +61 2 9251 3366