Circles for Reconciliation

Circles for Reconciliation

Heather Robbins is a retired Diaconal Minister and graduate of CCS from Winnipeg, MB.

The process of reconciliation will require the passionate commitment of individuals and the genuine engagement of society.

TRC Interim Report page 26

Circles for Reconciliation is a non-profit grassroots community project that seeks to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. The goal is to create new relationships that are based on “mutual recognition, mutual respect, sharing and mutual responsibility” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission). The process consists of Circles, ideally composed of ten people (five Indigenous and five non-Indigenous), meeting ten times weekly for 75 minutes to learn and discuss issues of reconciliation.

I was given the opportunity to participate in this gathering along with other members of my church. Our circle included four women from Westworth United, all of us retired, non-Indigenous, and with a background in nursing; another non-indigenous woman who attended occasionally; an Indigenous man; an elder Indigenous woman; and a young Cree woman who was studying at Booth College. (She struggled with being the only Indigenous student in her class.) We had a trained facilitator, Linda. Dr Raymond Currie was the coordinator but has since retired. 

We met each Wednesday afternoon for ten weeks at The Indigenous Family Centre on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg. We were welcomed and enjoyed the setting which was bright and cheerful with beautiful murals and lots of windows.   

We began each session by retelling our names, This was followed by reading aloud the Seven Sacred Teachings and being reminded of the animal that was associated with each teaching…

  1. Love  (eagle)
  2. Humility (wolf)
  3. Respect. (white buffalo)
  4. Wisdom (beaver)
  5. Courage (bear)
  6. Honesty (sabe/sasquatch)
  7. Truth (turtle) 

The “talking stick” was used each time we met. This gift from Indigenous practice involves passing along a sacred item, often a stick or stone or feather. The person holding the item is the one who talks while the rest of the circle listen respectfully.  The talking stick is passed clockwise and each person contributes to the discussion / story -telling as their turn arises (or they may pass).   For some of us non-Indigenous folk, it was a learning and some found it challenging not to be able to comment or interject out of turn.

Much of our sharing time focused on talking about our names, how we were given them, our origins and/or home communities. There were lots of conversations around land and what land means to each us.  We had a field trip to the Canadian Human Rights Museum to experience some of the Indigenous displays and learnings.  Later in the sessions we were introduced to smudging, which became our practice in subsequent sessions.  We concluded our time together with a feast of what they called “Indian Tacos” with bannock and farewell cupcakes. 

The time together was good learning for all involved and put us on the path of reconciliation.

As a follow-up to these Circles for Reconciliation I attended a course at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights led by Dr. Niigaan Sinclair and Jessica Dumas – “Indigenous Perspectives on Reconciliation” – which went deeper into some of the subjects discussed at Circles for Reconciliation.  My four years as a student at CCS was the spark that drew me towards knowing more about our Indigenous siblings and it is a life-long journey on which I continue to learn and travel.