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What is a Talking Circle: Exploring Indigenous Roots

Restorative justice and restorative practices have been increasingly popularized in western culture in response to mass incarceration, recidivism, and high crime rates. Instead of punitive measures, restorative practices use respect, empathy, and accountability to hold the person who caused harm responsible and bring justice to the victim. Restorative justice works to repair the harm caused by a crime or wrongdoing. This practice is rooted in indigenous peacemaking and talking circles.

Restorative justice is already being implemented into state legislature and schools, but could also benefit other sectors. But, where did restorative justice come from? Concepts like ‘talking circles’, also called peace circles or connection circles, can be traced back to indigenous cultures. Traditional talking circles usually start with a prayer. A talking stick may be passed around for individuals to share in order to minimize competition to speak. Giving each member space to speak and share, prevents reactive communication and allows for healthy dialogue. A talking circle can be used to release emotion and confide in community members who can provide listening ears, advice, and feedback.

A talking circle is a way to bring people together to teach, listen, learn and share – which is also the foundation for a peace circle. A peace circle brings together a facilitator, the person who caused harm, the person who was harmed and other community or classroom members to discuss the harm that was done and how to take steps toward healing. This process gives a voice to the person harmed and provides space for the person who caused harm to develop a plan for taking responsibility. In the classroom setting, this type of circle can be used in situations of harm, like a fight or violation of school rules. In community settings, peace circles can be used for harms like personal conflicts or petty crimes.

There are also healing circles where the main idea is to encourage and assist with healing. Healing circles have been known to be used with individuals with substance misuse or other dependencies. In allowing each member to explore emotions and harm caused fully without interruption, the person who caused harm can recognize causes of pain and may even disclose abuse and other traumas.

Try your own talking, healing or peace circle!

Next time conflict arises with colleagues, students, family or friends, try a circle practice and allow each person time to speak fully as others listen and work toward shared healing. By incorporating this indigenous practice into our relationships and workplaces, we are fostering spaces for understanding, patience, and change.