All Nations Sharing Circle
Nestled in a crook of the vibrant valley around which Brandon is built, between a hill and the mighty Assiniboine River, the All Nations Sharing Circle has already generated interest and seen people gather.
The name for the Sharing Circle at the Riverbank Discovery Centre came up in conversation between the centre’s general manager, James Montgomery, and city councillor Jeff Fawcett and Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council member Kris Desjarlais.
Montgomery said he had been thinking about such a space for three years or so. In Back to the River, Brandon’s Assiniboine River Corridor Master Plan 2015-2035 there is a planned Indigenous-led Spirit Park, but that won’t happen for a few years yet. Montgomery wanted something sooner and on-site.
Massive concrete bricks on another part of the property needed to be removed, and Montgomery thought to place them around an old abandoned picnic area. Upon doing some research, he came across the Education Garden and the Medicine Wheel Garden in Toronto, and the Water Conservation Garden in Kingston. Out of that came the idea to create the sharing circle.
The sharing circle, a traditional Indigenous practice, offers all participants the opportunity to speak and be heard.
Thanks to sponsor Westoba Credit Union, the idea became a reality.
Frank Tacan, the Brandon Friendship Centre’s knowledge keeper, led a blessing ceremony in May 2021 before construction began, during which he stated he requested that good come of the sharing circle — good for all people participating.
For Desjarlais, the sharing circle was an opportunity to dedicate more of Brandon’s public space to Indigenous culture and traditions, but not for exclusive use by Indigenous people.
“Everyone benefits from sharing circles. Everyone can benefit from a place to share openly, or not share and be active listeners, without anyone controlling or no hierarchy,” Desjarlais said.
On Tacan’s advice, the Seven Sacred Teachings – Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility, and Truth – be prominently placed around the circle.
How to use the Sharing Circle
Sharing circles are an essential part of the oral tradition of Aboriginal communities. The Traditional Native Feather Wand or Talking Stick is used in these circles when meetings/ceremonies take place and when decisions have to be made. We learn through our elders, families, friends, and other community members who share stories and seek the wisdom of their experiences.
A Talking Stick is a very special tool that gives one the courage to speak the truth and the power to speak from the heart. It is a symbol of respect for each member participating in the circle. When a person has the Talking Stick in a sharing circle, they speak from the heart without interruption – while others listen respectfully to the speaker’s message. Everyone in the “circle” gets a chance to hold the Talking Stick and share their thoughts and feelings. If the receiver chooses not to speak, he or she respectfully hands the Talking Stick to the next person until the item has been passed to everyone participating.
1. Begin the sharing circle by asking each participant to introduce themselves by sharing their names and comment on the topic at hand. The topic can be determined by the group or the leader in the circle. The leader then begins or asks a volunteer to go first. Leave room for silence, everyone can find their words in their own time. The Talking Stick should be passed in a clockwise direction or as the sun rises and sets – as is the custom in the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) tradition.
2. Participants face each other in an interconnected circle. All aspects of the human being (mind, body, heart, and spirit) are activated, learning, and sharing. A strong sense of community is established, and everyone is connected.
When Conducting a Sharing Circle…..
Take responsibility for yourself – You are the only person you can change. Use “I” statements. Own your feelings, perceptions, wants, etc. Recognize that this is an opportunity for you to exercise self-care by speaking your truth, being heard and expressing more of who you really are.
Confidentiality – What you see, speak, share or hear that is personal or specific to another, remains with you. The act of sharing your personal experiences should be honoured.
Adopt a beginner’s mind – Consider the possibility that there may be more for you to learn and benefit from, than what you’re currently aware of, or have experienced.
Maintain a positive focus – Focus your attention on the person sharing. Look for the gifts being shared (e.g. their openness, vulnerability, caring, etc.)
Connect at the heart – Open your heart to the essence of what is being conveyed. Be willing to get “out of your mind” and release the need to evaluate, judge or compare.
Be fully engaged with the speaker – Refrain from side talks, cross talks or interrupting when someone is sharing.
When asked for feedback, give only positive support – Always share the positives! Don’t give any unsolicited advice, criticism or counselling.
When receiving acknowledgment or support, take it – Be open to receiving acknowledgment and let it sink in. Simply respond with “Thank you”.