Michelle Armster is African American. She is also the executive director for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States in North Newton, KS. She worked for MCC in the US Peace and Justice program in urban peacemaking as the director of Conciliation Services and co-director for the Office on Justice and Peacebuilding. She attended Lancaster Theological Seminary, where she received a master of divinity. Michelle is a trainer, teacher, and practitioner in the areas of conflict transformation, mediation, anti-racism/anti-oppression, offender-victim mediation (OVM), restorative justice/practices, and crimes of severe violence.
"Burn the Bridge"
Erica Littlewolf, Michelle Armster, and Christianne Paras all take exception to restorative justice’s claim that its roots derive from Indigenous ways. The “claim that restorative justice in its current iteration is honoring the traditions of Indigenous people is false,” they write. “Instead, restorative justice is rooted in a Western, white supremacist, cisgender, male dominated system.” In a word, colonization.
Nonetheless, the claim of Indigenous origins becomes the bridge metaphor that the restorative justice movement uses to historically link restorative justice to traditional Indigenous ways or practices. This bridge metaphor, the authors contend, needs conceptual burning. Like other CRJ contributors, Littlewolf, Armster, and Paras assert that the homage restorative justice pays to Indigenous ways is perhaps honored more in the breach than in the observance.
For these women, restorative justice has to amp up its critical self-awareness, especially in regard to its complicity with oppressive, colonizing institutions. It has to co-partner with social justice when addressing and undoing harms that these systems, like the US criminal-legal system, churns out. Social justice is about achieving equity despite a society that condones inequities— socio-economic, socio-political, socio-health, and socio-educational disparities. Indeed, Littlewolf, Armster, and Paras deconstruct restorative justice’s four assumptions that, intentionally or not, harm People of Color and Indigenous Peoples in the movement.