Belfast man first from region selected for Rotary International peace fellowship

Stephen Brimley of Belfast, the director of the Penobscot Nation Judicial System, will spend three months studying in Thailand as a Rotary International Peace Fellow.
Courtesy of Rotary Club of Belfast
Stephen Brimley of Belfast, the director of the Penobscot Nation Judicial System, will spend three months studying in Thailand as a Rotary International Peace Fellow.
Posted April 19, 2013, at 5:24 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — After spending three months studying peace and conflict resolution during a fellowship in Thailand later this summer, Stephen Brimley hopes to put what he learns to good use in his work at the Penobscot Nation Judicial System on Indian Island.

“You know that bumper sticker that reads, ‘Think globally, act locally?’” the Belfast man said Thursday morning. “This is really the reverse of that. It’s taking global lessons and bringing them closer to home.”

Brimley, 42, who has worked as the director of the judicial system for five years, said that he is looking forward to the opportunity to spend three months studying at the Rotary Peace Center in Bangkok. He is one of 50 Rotary International Peace Fellows for 2013, and the first applicant from the Rotary region that encompasses part of Maine and Quebec to be so chosen.

“It’s really a fantastic thing for Stephen and our Rotary Club,” Su Wood of the Rotary Club of Belfast said. “Rotary is a peace organization. It is made up of business people, community leaders and civic leaders who use their professional expertise and contacts as the basis by which they get things done. But at the core, it is an organization that’s about peace.”

Brimley said he has strived to make the tribal court on Indian Island that he oversees “more Penobscot” in nature. The tribal court was created in 1979 to emulate the District Court system and has exclusive jurisdiction over Class D and E crimes, which are classified as misdemeanors, juvenile offenses, civil actions between members, federal Indian child welfare matters and domestic relations matters between tribal members. Recently, the tribal court also was given jurisdiction over domestic violence cases in which the offender is non-native and the victim is native, he said.

“We are in essence a problem-solving court,” he said. “While we are concerned with the charge that brought the individual to the court system, we are very concerned with the underlying issues.”

Some of those might include substance abuse, lack of job training, a history of trauma and more, Brimley said.

“We are very much a healing court,” he said.

And the role of the court might be expanded, if a movement to increase the tribal court’s jurisdiction to Class C crimes is successful, he said. Such changes will require communication and cooperation between the federal government, the state government and the tribal government — which is one important reason why he is excited about the Rotary opportunity.

Historically, there have been conflicts between those governing bodies, Brimley said, and current and future legislative changes are likely to cause more.

“Increasingly, as the head of a major department on this island, I’m finding myself in situations where I need to be a peacemaker and resolve these long-standing conflicts over jurisdiction,” he said.

While in Bangkok, Brimley expects to learn how to understand different cultural frameworks for resolving conflicts. The other international peace fellows are experts in the field, and he’ll be learning from them as well as from the faculty and the fieldwork opportunities in Cambodia and northern Thailand.

“My background has always encouraged me to look at common issues, not differences — even though the cultures may be dramatically different, there still may be lots of common goals and objectives,” Brimley said. “And a means of creating peace and resolving conflict.”

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