The talking circle is a traditional way for Native American people to solve problems. It is a very effective way to remove barriers and to allow people to express themselves with complete freedom. For this reason, it is becoming more and more popular in mainstream society. The talking circle is making its appearance in schools, corporate board rooms and team dressing rooms around the world, for the simple reason that the technique works very well. The symbolism of the circle, with no beginning and with nobody in a position of prominence, serves to encourage people to speak freely and honestly about things that are on their minds.


Everyone sits in a circle, generally with men to the North and women to the South. The conductor of the circle will generally sit in the East. A token, such as a feather or a special talking stick, is passed clockwise around the circle. As each person receives the token, they may speak for as long as they wish, including addressing a topic brought up by another in the circle. When they have finished, they pass the token along. If someone does not wish to speak, they simply pass the token. The token may go around several times; when everyone has had the opportunity to speak as many times as they wish, the conductor ends the circle.


The most common type of circle is a simple sharing circle, where people just share whatever they have to say. There is no particular purpose or theme, and many fascinating side-trips often happen. The sharing circle is also an excellent introduction to ceremonies, and is a great learning tool for those who are just discovering traditional Aboriginal ways. We frequently incorporate such circles in our gatherings, and find that the circles generate a feeling of harmony and kinship in those who participate.

Another common circle, and perhaps the most powerful, is the healing circle. This is generally guided by the conductor, and will be convened to deal with issues that are bothering people. These issues may be specific, or the circle may be called to simply allow everyone to get any problems off their chests. Very often, a simple chance to have a voice, and to have a problem heard in a sympathetic and supportive environment, is all that a person requires for healing. In addition, sharing amongst a group allows everyone to take a piece of the burden from the person with the problem, who then leaves the circle with a lighter load. However, since the problem does not belong to the other participants, they are able to lay down the piece of the burden they accepted and walk away without having increased their own loads.

Another type of circle is used to mediate problems between people, either individuals or groups. Again, very often all that is required for a solution to such problems is the opportunity to hear and speak in complete honesty, so that both sides of the problem become aware of the impact of the problem on the other party. In these circles, the conductor guides the participants toward finding their own equitable solution to their problem, since a solution that is created by the participants is the most likely to work over the long term.


There are a few very simple guidelines that allow a talking circle to function:

1) Only one person speaks at a time - only the person holding the feather or talking stick may speak. Dialogues are not part of the circle, as they can become confrontational.

2) Introduce yourself - it is polite to introduce yourself in the first round. Use your spirit name, if you have one; otherwise, use your given name.

3) Speak from the heart - the speaker should address the circle from the heart, and may speak for as long as they need to, with respect for the time of others.

4) Listen with respect - all people except the speaker listen attentively and give support to the speaker. Listening with the heart allows you to hear the true intent beneath what the speaker is saying. Listen in the way you expect others to hear you.

5) What is said in the circle stays in the circle - never repeat anything that is said within the circle, unless you have the permission of the speaker.

When convening a circle, smudging the participants with sage will help dispel any negativity they may be carrying with them. In a way, it's like 'wiping' your spiritual 'feet' before entering the circle. As well, keeping a sage smudge burning during the circle, particularly when emotions are intense, will help keep negativity from entering.


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Updated: 25 Mar 2016 Print Page