(Brief Biography of Robert Miller, Founder of Four Winds Restorative Justice)
The Miller family has been in tribal leadership since 1937. We started in Shawano County, Wisconsin, where my grandfather, Carl Miller signed the first constitution for our tribe, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community of Mohican Indians. My uncle, Arvid E. Miller, was the President of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, followed by my father, and my cousins.
At 16, I became the Secretary, and began to submit my reports to the Federal Government Bureau of Indian Affairs.
I joined the US Military in 1961 and specialized in military intelligence serving with the US Army Security Agency. I served during the Russian space race and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I spent time in multiple countries around the world, and developed appreciation for different cultures.
In 1968, I began to work for the state of Wisconsin. I was promoted repeatedly and moved to 11 different locations, gaining valuable experience around the state. For 30 of the 40 years I worked for the state, I worked with union employees. I used Talking Circle techniques, rather than union grievances, to resolve employee issues.
In 1975, I was assigned by then Governor Lucy to mediate a very intense land and discrimination dispute between non-Indians and Menominee Indians in Shawano, Wisconsin. Over a period of 14 months, I held conflict resolution sessions weekly with local Tribal Leaders and non-Indian political leaders. At the beginning, many of the meeting attendees carried guns, and the threat of bloodshed loomed large. I used Talking Circle techniques to help create a safe space for the parties to open up and understand each other better. Violence was averted and in the summer of 1976, we held a pow wow, Indians and non-Indians together to celebrate peace.
In 1976, Governor Lucy called on me again to handle a situation in Cumberland, WI. The St. Croix Chippewa Community is located in that area. The community had an active branch of AIM (American Indian Movement), a national organization that started as a result of Wounded Knee. AIM had violent tendencies. The local Chippewa AIM organization decided Indians had taken enough from non-Indians, and they weren’t going to take any more. They declared they were going to hold a national convention in tiny Cumberland (population circa 2,000). Indians were invited from AIM all around the US.
It was determined that guns and lots of ammunition were being funneled into Cumberland, and the situation was explosive. I worked with Tribal Leaders and non-Indians to create a plan to defuse the situation. Authorities blocked off all the roads that entered Cumberland, and sent home all non-local Indians trying to enter Cumberland. The local AIM organization backed off and was successfully deterred from violent action.
When I started with the Northeast Wisconsin Job Service in 1968, there were 3 counties in a district. Over time, the state consolidated districts, and by the time I left my position, there were 18 counties in my district. I progressed through the same division, same bureau, and over the course of 40 years I became the only Native American District Director of the Northeast Wisconsin Job Service.
I spent 20 years as a Tribal Judge, participating in an adversarial system where there were always winners and losers. I saw that people seldom healed after appearing before the court. Local politics affected the tribal court. The legislative process was not separated from the judicial process. Laws would be changed in order to affect the judicial process, not to improve the lives of our people. In 2012, I retired from my position as Tribal Judge.
Before retiring, my desire to reintroduce the concept of Talking Circles to tribes around the country grew stronger. To formalize my own training, I studied with Kay Pranis. Kay is a former Restorative Justice Planner for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and an author/trainer on Restorative Justice and Talking Circles, both Nationally and Internationally. She guided me through her program, “Heart of Hope,” and I completed an internship with her.
I am committed to the restorative justice approach to resolving conflict. I train people to use Talking Circle techniques reflective of their cultural heritage to achieve long-term healing solutions for people and their communities.