The purpose of peacemaking circles is to create a safe, nonjudgmental space to engage in a sharing of authentic personal truths and feelings that are owned by each individual and acknowledged by others, related to a conflict, crisis, issue, or even to a reaction to a speaker film. The circle process allows the opportunity for each person to speak, without interruptions from others.
Peacemaking circles, talking circles, or healing circles, are deeply rooted in the traditional practices of the indigenous people of North America, as well as from other parts of the world. They are widely used among the First Nation people of Canada and the hundreds of tribes of Native Americans in the United States. The circle process establishes a very different style of communication as opposed to European traditions that most of us are familiar with. Rather than aggressive debate and challenging one another, often involving only a few more assertive individuals, the circle avoids interruptions. Rather than active verbal facilitation, communication is regulated through the Peacemakers or Circle Keepers by passing a talking piece (usually an object of special meaning or symbolism of the group).
This talking piece fosters respectful listening and reflection in a safe setting. It prevents one-to-one debating or attacking or even having one person dominating the conversation. After welcoming the participants, all of whom are sitting in a circle, the Peacemakers will begin by having each person introduce him or herself, followed by a brief opening commentary by the Peacemakers about the purpose of the circle and the talking piece. Guidelines or communication are discussed and agreed upon. Typical guidelines include listen with respect; speak from the heart; give each person a chance to talk; allow one person to talk at a time when he or she has the talking piece; speak for oneself and not as a representative of any group; realize that it is okay to disagree; and no name-calling or attacking.
The Peacemakers will begin the process by posing a question to reflect on, followed by other related questions. After each question, the talking piece is passed to the person on the left, clockwise. Only one person talks at a time – the one with the talking piece. If others jump in with comments, the Peacemakers remind them of the ground rules and refocuses on the person with the talking piece. Participants are not required to speak: this requirement would create an unsafe, pressured tone to the circle. If someone feels unable to speak, he or she can simply pass the talking piece to the next person.
In most cases the talking circle is completed when the talking piece completes the circle after the last question / topic. If there are exceptions to this unspoken rule this should be discussed prior to the beginning of the talking circle.