What Is Circle Justice in Touching Spirit Bear

What Is Circle Justice in Touching Spirit Bear?

Touching Spirit Bear is a young adult novel written by Ben Mikaelsen. The book revolves around the life of Cole Matthews, a troubled teenager who is sent to a remote Alaskan island as a part of his punishment for his violent behavior. While on the island, Cole encounters an ancient Native American healing process known as Circle Justice. In this article, we will delve into the concept of Circle Justice and its significance in the novel.

Circle Justice is a restorative justice practice that focuses on healing and reconciliation rather than punishment. It is deeply rooted in Native American traditions and aims to address the harm caused by an individual’s actions. The concept of Circle Justice is based on the belief that people are interconnected and that healing can only occur when everyone involved in a conflict is brought together to resolve their issues.

In Touching Spirit Bear, Circle Justice is introduced to Cole as an alternative to imprisonment. Instead of being sent to a juvenile detention center, Cole is given the opportunity to participate in a Circle Justice program, which involves living alone on an isolated island for a year. During this time, he is expected to confront his inner demons and mend the relationships he has damaged.

The Circle Justice process in the novel is facilitated by a Tlingit elder named Garvey, who serves as a mentor and guide for Cole. Garvey is a firm believer in the power of Circle Justice and its ability to transform lives. He explains that the circle represents the interconnectedness of all living things and that it is within this circle that healing can occur.

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The Circle Justice meetings in the novel consist of a group of individuals sitting in a circle, including Cole, his parents, his victim, Peter, and a few others who have been affected by Cole’s actions. Each participant is given an opportunity to speak, share their feelings, and express their thoughts on the situation. The process encourages honesty, empathy, and understanding.

During these meetings, Cole is forced to confront the consequences of his actions, listen to the pain he has caused, and take responsibility for his behavior. The goal is not to punish Cole but to help him understand the impact of his actions and guide him towards a path of healing and self-discovery.


Q: How does Circle Justice differ from traditional justice systems?
A: Traditional justice systems focus primarily on punishment and retribution, while Circle Justice emphasizes healing, reconciliation, and personal growth. It offers an alternative approach to addressing conflicts, particularly in cases involving young offenders.

Q: Does Circle Justice guarantee a successful outcome?
A: Circle Justice is not a magic solution that guarantees a positive outcome for every individual. Its effectiveness depends on various factors, including the willingness of participants to engage in the process, the severity of the offense, and the commitment to change.

Q: Is Circle Justice only practiced by Native American communities?
A: While Circle Justice has its origins in Native American cultures, it has gained recognition and adoption in various communities around the world. Its principles of restorative justice and community healing resonate with many cultures and have proven to be effective in certain cases.

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Q: How does Circle Justice impact Cole’s character development in Touching Spirit Bear?
A: Circle Justice acts as a catalyst for Cole’s transformation throughout the novel. By facing the consequences of his actions, participating in the healing circle, and learning from the wisdom of Garvey, Cole begins to understand the significance of empathy, forgiveness, and personal responsibility.

In conclusion, Circle Justice in Touching Spirit Bear is a powerful and transformative process that offers an alternative approach to addressing conflicts and promoting healing. Through the circle meetings, Cole is given the opportunity to confront his past, understand the consequences of his actions, and embark on a journey of self-discovery. Circle Justice serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy, forgiveness, and personal growth in the journey towards redemption.