Indigenous Origins of Circles

Circles are far more than a technique; they are a sacred way of life. Circles embody philosophy, principles, and values that apply whether people are sitting in Circle or not. 

During the 1990s, members of First Nations in Canada began teaching the Circle practice to non-Native people. They chose to do this because First Nation communities were seeking alternatives to the mass incarceration of their people. Returning to Native ways to resolve conflicts and harms required collaboration with non-Native people: lawyers, prosecutors, judges, as well as non-Native neighbors. In the process, non-Native people experienced the Circle process and its power to bring positive transformation for everyone involved. From these origins, the use of Circles among non-Natives has grown. 

Several First Nations people in particular contributed to the use of Circles among non-Natives in the U.S. and Canada. The Hollow Water First Nation on Lake Winnipeg has played a critical role in demonstrating the philosophy and power of Circles to address harms in communities. Many non-Natives learned about Circles through their work, especially by reading Rupert Ross’s book, Returning to the Teachings: Exploring Aboriginal JusticeCanada; available in the U.S. from Living Justice Press. 

This cross-cultural transference that First Nations people initiated was spurred by the need to find alternatives to incarceration and to reduce the disproportionate incarceration of Native people. When non-Native people, including many People of Color, experienced the power of the Circle process to address harms and conflicts, they began to use the process with other non-Native people and in other areas of life as well.  

Using Circles in schools quickly became another major area of use. In Minnesota, Dakota-Ojibwe playwright and scholar Chuck Robertson was a strong advocate of using Circles with Native and non-Native communities, especially around schools. With his Circle associates Jamie Williams and Oscar Reed, Dr. Robertson trained and worked with hundreds of educators to bring the Circle process into school settings. 

Indigenous peoples around the world have clearly used processes similar to Circles to attend to the community’s work. Circles of stones or wood can be found all over Europe. Some European circular sites date back 5,000 years or more. Though Indigenous European forms of Circles have been largely lost, many Indigenous Peoples continue to use Circle-like processes today. We are deeply indebted to those who have carried these traditions into modern times.

Information from Living Justice Press