Providing the chance for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to meet and talk in a respectful manner is at the core of the Circles For Reconciliation project.
"The heart of what we’re trying to do is establish relationships," said Circles of Reconciliation project co-ordinator Raymond Currie.
A Winnipeg resident and former University of Manitoba sociology professor, Currie took the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s interim report recommendations, and subsequent 94 Calls to Action, as personal inspiration and motivation to start what would become Circles for Reconciliation.
"The idea came in June 2015 when the interim report came out," he said. After reading the report, he spent nine months consulting with Indigenous people on what steps to take.
"We formed the advisory committee in April 2016," Currie said, adding that half of the 12 committee members are Indigenous and half are non-Indigenous. This 50/50 ratio is also followed within each circle with an Indigenous and non-Indigenous facilitator and the 10 circle participants evenly divided.
"We are incredibly serious about living this partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people," Currie said.
Circle participants commit to meeting 10 times once or twice a week for about 75 minutes per meeting. They use a talking stick to help the group speak equally.
"We never oblige anyone to share anything," Currie said.
There’s no cost to participate. The Circles For Reconciliation project has been funded by the federal and provincial governments and the Winnipeg Foundation and RBC Foundation, among other sources.
Currie said his parents were concerned about social justice issues. His immediate family history also gave him motivation to work toward establishing respectful and meaningful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as a means of reconciliation.
Project Indigenous recruiter and event co-ordinator Ingrid Dowan of Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation is direct when asked where she got involved in the project.
"It’s simple — because it’s the right thing to do."
Dowan’s commitment began about two years ago. Like Currie, she believes having the chance to meet one another in a safe space and to listen and speak openly helps to build trust and form relationships.
"They (the participants) have the chance to understand each other," she said, adding that misconceptions can be examined.
To date, about 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous circle facilitators have been trained, with 100 located in Winnipeg. These people are all volunteers.
"We offer opportunity, the structure and good content," Currie said. "They (the facilitators and participants) don’t have to wonder what they are going to talk about."
Employers such as Manitoba Hydro and the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba have hosted Circles For Reconciliation for their employees.
"Organizations are coming to say they’d like to host a circle," Currie said.
The original goal was to hold 100 circles within a two-year period and Currie said the idea is gradually spreading from Winnipeg across Manitoba and Canada with school divisions, faith groups and health care and service organizations showing interest.
"We’ve had circles in four provinces."
He’s meeting with Portage la Prairie residents this week to talk about the project, and there is some interest in having a circle held in Headingley.
"Our experience has been that there’s a thirst for reconciliation across the country," he said.
For more information about Circles For Reconciliation, see http://circlesforreconciliation.ca
Community journalist — The Headliner
Andrea Geary is the community journalist for The Headliner. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Call her at 204-697-7124