Circle process is a community governance process that has multiple applications as well as serious implications for management and organizational development practices. There are many iterations of circle practice here in the United States and across the world. Our model is rooted in indigenous governance practices and further informed by the fields of organizational development, leadership development, Critical Race Theory, indigenous theories, Black Feminist Thought, and popular education.
Circle process is the enactment of the principles of the indigenous Medicine Wheel, which is an ontological map that explains the order of the universe, the world, human relationships, and humanity itself. The first layer of meaning pertains to the nature of the self, which is that we are made up of four core parts: body, mind, emotion, and spirit. A human being in good relationship with itself is in good relationship with its body, mind, emotion, and spirit. From an indigenous point of view, everybody is different and so everybody expresses each of these elements in their unique manner. The focus is less on the definitions and more on the identification of a type of landscape of human expression from which one can appreciate each person’s unique expression of self.
Each individual is embedded in a constant process of building relationships with other beings, be they human or not. This process is the next layer of the Medicine Wheel and it has to do with that it means to get to know others, to trust them, to reveal oneself to them, to reveal themselves to us, and with showing up for each other. We understand that people have had this process of relationship building interrupted in traumatic of ways because the types of violence experienced in this culture.
We also are fully aware of the impact of social oppression in the interruption of this relationship building process and of the lack of certainty about the stability, longevity, or reliability on relationships even beyond the intimate realms. Here, we allude to the enduring denial of access and opportunities for social, civic, economic, and technological participation by social oppression in the arenas of education, employment, civic engagement, and health care. We understand that the chronic denial of access and opportunity occurs regardless of individual merit and for reasons that are beyond the control of communities.
Beyond the benefits to an individual’s capacity to reflect on their own sense of personal well being, part of the power of the circle process in social justice organizational contexts is in implementing a process that normalizes the process of building healthy relationships in ways that perhaps have been completely unfamiliar. Connecting with others who can support people in their efforts to:
- Recalibrate their own ongoing efforts to continue to engage the world in the face of crippling intersectional oppression
- Re-establish trust in their capacity to build healthy relationships
- Keep themselves safe
- Troubleshoot parenting and child care issues
- Offer and receive support during challenging times
- Access needed resources such as employment, training, educational, and housing opportunities
- And experience a sense of joy and well being with others when there are breakthroughs and accomplishments in their lives.
In the end, the process is really about each of us re-establishing a sense of wellbeing and connection to our world, to resist the sense of isolation and displacement that the experiences of violence and oppression create. This sense of wellbeing and connection is the third layer of the Medicine Wheel and it has to do with having a connection to our distinct lineages while being connected across differences to all of the Earth.
In indigenous contexts this sense of connection has to do with the development of ethics that guide our behavior. Foremost at this level, is the development of an understanding of interconnectedness that is beyond individual survival needs and has more to do withone’s capacity to take care of the Whole, be it the family unit, the group, the community, and the environment. Taking care of the environment is paramount with individual self-care, demonstrating concern and connecting with the environment is also another way to overcome the traumatic impact of violence.
Lastly, the fourth layer of the Medicine Wheel is often misconstrued as being esoteric but in fact, it is very practical. It has to do with developing the awareness of our place beyond the human world in the context of a universe we are still understanding. This is the layer in which we practice humility, another ethical imperative in a world that is so complex that we struggle even to understand ourselves. By understanding ourselves as being nestled within much larger forces in the universe, we can be of a humble attitude and access forgiveness more easily. We can see how our failures are not as large as we think they may be and how others also are bound by their own stories and react out of a lack of capacity to discern the fact that social oppression and violence should not determine who they are in the world.
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