Circle Training – November 6and 7, 2014
8:30 – 4:30
Holyoke Public Library
Sayra Owens Pinto, Strong Oak Lefebvre
We will spend two days understanding the history, philosophy, and practice of circles in various community contexts. Circles is an indigenous community governance practice used to bring people together to build community, problem solve, celebrate accomplishments and make decisions. Its applications are numerous across the private, public and non-profit sector.
In communities, circles are useful to build cross-sector coalitions, conduct needs assessments, develop strategic and to strengthen Communities of Color. In organizations, circles are used to strengthen management processes, build learning communities, implement restorative justice initiatives, and engage constituencies.
The circle process is a gift conserved throughout centuries of genocide and cultural survival only then to be gifted to the world so we can learn our way back to being Whole. We are most grateful to our teachers from various indigenous communities for teaching us this process such as Harold Gatensby of the Tlingit people in the Yukon territories and John Mohawk of the Seneca people who is now an Ancestor. We are grateful for the support, blessing and embrace given to us currently by Strong Oak Lefevbre and Jillene Joseph.
We also honor the gift of this process by teachers such as Donna Bivens, Gwen Rhivers, and Dr. Carolyn Boyes-Watson, sisters who walk with us along this journey.
May we honor the gift you have given us in the effort to help us remember that we can build the communities of our choosing even in the face of on-going oppression.
This event is being put together through a collaboration with local and regional domestic violence programs and is being sponsored by HarborCOV, Transition House, and the Cambridge YWCA.
November 10, 2014
This past week I was granted with the opportunity to participate in a training on the Indigenous practice of Circle. Having some experience in other types of circle as a tool for conflict resolution, i was under the impression this would just be an opportunity to learn a few new techniques to strengthen my knowledge. However that was not the case. Instead, I was given a rare and spectacular gift of learning as well as experiencing this sacred indigenous ceremonial practice. Sayra and Strong Oak, our hosts explained that this was not the type of circle many are familiar with in terms of restorative justice and the this process what something much deeper and meaningful.
Circle is to be used as a way to strengthen community and resolve real issues in the community as was as a place to govern a group and plan strategies, as well as form, strengthen, and/or repair relationships within the community. Circle will only be successful if every individual is a willing and open to the process and should be held with the utmost respect and care. Sometimes it may seem like it is just a cathartic space to express emotions and feelings but that is only a small part but can be difficult to move through because each one of us can be so full of trauma.
Agreements are made from one person to the next as a way to allow the best forms of ourselves stay present in the space. We started with an exercise in the form of a question: who are your people? and we drew who we identified as out people as a way to introduce ourselves and our ancestors into the space. This, in my opinion anchors us to the reasons why we were sitting in the in the first place. It made me think of why community is so important and who it is I choose to focus my life around. By doing this I felt invested in the process and passionate about the outcome.
As our time went on I was inspired with a new understanding the philosophical principle of the Indigenous Medicine Wheel and how we can understand the many layer of ourselves in relation to the our individual self, our place in the community and within the universe itself. This gave me an idea of my own personal responsibility to the group. Finding out what element each person was and what role we had in the community help give understand of how important is it to have balance within Circle.
As we got deeper into the training it was made clear of exactly what each individual had understood about the teachings and it became more and more apparent that not everyone had the same interpretation of what Circle truly meant. It was like western conditioning had made it next to impossible for some people to reshape their idea of how things should be taught and what was truly being asked of us by our hosts, which highlighted exactly where we were in the process of understanding Circle.
We cannot simply use this discipline as a tool or activity, but as a lifestyle and way of community that we have not been taught before. There was no longer a leader, we as a group make decisions and move through stages at our own pace. This is a process that can’t be forced or controlled but simply worked through. This way of sharing stories and ideas forces us to actively listen and hold what other are saying without getting distracted, or exercising the urge to immediately respond. That leads to a more present group and a chance to absorb what is being said. Once we gain a true understanding of who we are and an awareness of what our goals are we can them move on to how to maintain community. But this isn’t something that can necessarily be work out in a day or two it is more like an ongoing relationship and accountability to ourselves and the group as a whole.
Strong Oak told us how she doesn’t just have Circle, but that she lives in Circle. That to me displays the depth in witch we must be committed to the process as well as each other in order to truly make changes in the way we work towards whatever is it we are organizing around.