Gathering Theme: Getting To Know You

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Gathering Theme: First Gathering

Getting to Know You

Revised April 2020


Documents and Materials to bring (Facilitator’s checklist)
 Opening protocol
 Seven Sacred Teachings of the Anishinaabe
 6 copies of the closing protocol
 Talking stick
 Smudging tobacco, etc., or invocation (If desired)
 Refreshments
 Kleenex
 Small pads of paper and pencils for participants (if necessary)
 Other items unique to your group
 Materials on the Theme of the meeting

1. Opening Protocol (Facilitator)
2. Introducing the Circle format (Indigenous Facilitator)
Welcome! Our meetings are usually an hour and fifteen minutes, unless we agree to extend them. In that way those who wish to leave can do so without feeling they are disrupting anything. If others want to stay and discuss a bit longer, that is possible (as long as the facility does not have to be locked up). We ask you to be very conscious of your sharing time. We will be meeting many times, you will have many opportunities to share your thoughts and feelings.

There are five parts to a circle:

  • Opening statement (Facilitator reads)
  • The Seven Sacred Teachings (To be read aloud by one of the participants)
  • Presentation of a theme (12 to 15 minutes)
  • Passing the talking stick (45 to 50 minutes)
  • Closing protocol (To be read aloud by participants)

Non-Indigenous facilitator
3. Setting the tone for our circle

In this first gathering we want to establish a climate of “mutual recognition and mutual respect” to use the words of the Truth and Reconciliation Report. No matter what your background and life experiences we want to respect you, by listening to you and by recognizing the value of you as a person and what you have to bring to our gathering. So it is important that we agree on this respect for one another at the outset.

When a participant has the talking stick it is important that we all listen and not interrupt.

Over the course of our gatherings we will tackle a number of issues. There are 21 themes we have addressed so far.

The first four weeks we will address the following themes:

  • Week 1) Today, getting to know you
  • Week 2) Misconceptions about Indigenous People
  • Week 3) what is Reconciliation
  • Week 4) Intergenerational Trauma

For the following weeks, as a group we will then choose the themes we want to address.

For example:

  • The history and impact of residential schools.
  • The meaning of land for Indigenous people.
  • The sixties scoop and its ongoing reality.
  • The justice system and Indigenous people.
  • Métis Identity and Nationhood.
  • The Pass System
  • Etc.

Indigenous facilitator

  1. We urge you to plan to attend all meetings. The rhythm of the circle is disrupted if people come and go. Sometimes it is unavoidable but we ask you to recognize the value of coming regularly.
  2. We encourage you to go on the website. It changes virtually every week.
  3. When we decide the theme for the following week you can read it on the website before coming to the meeting if you wish. Also there are all kinds of resources on our website, including short and long videos.
  4. Does anyone need transportation either to come or to get home?

We have already held over 700 individual circle meetings. As we begin our circle we would like to share with you some of the feedback we have received from our participants. While most of the feedback has been very positive, there have been several concerns raised.

Non-Indigenous facilitator
Our non-Indigenous participants have expressed frustration when some Indigenous participants have not continued in the group after the first few meetings. We believe that we have all agreed to be part of this circle for ten weeks unless an important family, health or work situation arises, so we are hoping that our circle will remain full.

Indigenous facilitator
Our Indigenous participants also have some concerns. Some feel that too much burden has been placed upon them to share difficult moments of their past, while the non-Indigenous participants have not felt that same obligation. Some Indigenous people have not even shared some of their past with members of their own family, so why should they share them with strangers. Obviously there is absolutely no obligation to share, but when people do, we need to respect each other’s stories. Also, we cannot expect Indigenous participants to share if the non-Indigenous partners are not also willing to share.

Another concern Indigenous people have expressed is in the form of a question: “Why should we have to educate settlers about things they should have learnt in school or elsewhere? It is not our job to educate them”. The answer to that question is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is that settlers did not learn it in school due to the legacy of colonization. But now there are plenty of books, T.V. programs and media reports that are telling the stories. Non-Indigenous participants cannot be blamed if they did not learn it in school, but there is no longer an excuse to be ignorant.
Furthermore, a circle is not only about hearing the tragedies of the past, a circle is an opportunity to hear the wisdom, the resilience, the creativity of Indigenous people and cultures.

Non-Indigenous facilitator
In brief, Indigenous participants do not have all the responsibility to inform our circle group. While the personal stories of the Indigenous participants can be a very important part of this education of everyone in the circle, all of us in the circle have some responsibility to educate ourselves, to learn more, even beyond our circle. Participating in a ten week circle does not make us experts in Indigenous cultures. The resource section of our website has excellent information which would be a good starting point to educate ourselves beyond participating in this circle.
There is another dimension however: How are we able to respond and share when other participants have shared a very difficult experience? Obviously there is no simple answer. We need to be honest with ourselves and empathetic with others. We all have some personal history that we could share each week. How does my history relate (or not) to Indigenous people in Canada? Have I or my ancestors directly or indirectly benefitted from the oppression of Indigenous people?
As much as possible, it is important that we have sharing from all members of our circle.

Indigenous facilitator
There is another reason we encourage our Indigenous participants to be partners in our in our circles. This is the most important reason. We do not want Indigenous children and grandchildren to experience the racism, the ignorance of their culture that has been part of our Canadian history. We all have a responsibility to help end that with our participation. We hope you will grace us with your presence and participation. We need you!

Non-Indigenous facilitator
Our circles give us a wonderful opportunity to meet one another, to get to know one another, to hear the stories of one another and to “build and maintain that mutual respect” that the TRC states is the foundation of reconciliation. When we “honour the truth,” that is, know our past history, understand that many challenges remain today, and care about one another we can and must bring about change.
Our sharing can lead us to honour and to live by the treaties that our ancestors signed on our behalf.
Is there anything any of you wish to add that will help us create a very healthy sharing time? We don’t have to have rules as such, but it would be helpful if we agreed on how we will conduct ourselves.

For example:

  1. It is very important that we all recognize that the feelings of an individual are neither right nor wrong. They are real and need to be respected.
  2. We ask you to be conscious of your sharing time so that everyone has a chance to participate. Because we have a number of gatherings you will have ample opportunity to share your ideas and feelings.
  3. Turn off cell phones.
  4. Be on time for meetings.

Are there any other suggestions about setting the tone for our meetings?

Today’s Theme: Getting to Know You

(facilitator reads)
We are calling this first session, a “getting to know you” session, where each of us can tell a bit about ourselves.

(Facilitators can google “Icebreakers for groups” and be free to choose the one best suited for their group. There are many choices. Here is the most common icebreaker for Getting to Know You:

“I suggest that we go around the group and in about 3-4 minutes each, share the following: a) Our name, b) where are you from, c) our cultural identity/background, d) why we decided to take part in these gatherings, e) what we hope to bring to our life from these gatherings. Let me begin…”

(One facilitator would begin by taking about 3 minutes to share so that participants would have a sense of the expectations. The facilitator then passes the talking stick, adding:)

At this point we are going to pass the talking stick around the circle. You are free to pass if you wish. Think about 3 to 4 minutes for sharing. Remember that you have a number of meetings upcoming when you will also have time to share.

Closing Protocol
Each of our meetings end with a closing protocol.

Five of the participants will now read one sentence from the Closing and all will join the 6th person in reading the last sentence of the closing.

Gathering Theme: Call to Business

Download a printable pdf file of the theme from this link.

Revised April 2020


Call to Business


Author: Raymond F. Currie

The title of our theme is a phrase borrowed from “Indigenous Works,” ( a national non-profit agency headquartered in Saskatoon that is focused on Indigenous employment. The phrase is part of their report on a national study of businesses and their interest in partnerships with Indigenous companies. It seems like an appropriate description of what we wish to address today.

In our Circle, in the next few minutes we will do four things;

  • First, read Call to action # 92
  • Second; reflect on the key points of this call to action
  • Third: Ask, why should business care
  • Fourth; reflect on how to move forward

Then, with the use of a talking stick, we will share on how we might proceed or are already doing so

First; let’s take a moment to read call to action # 92

Participant 1 reads:

Facilitator reads:

Call to Action # 92

We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their lands and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following:

Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.

Ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that Aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.

Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

For those of you who perhaps have never read this before, let’s summarize this Call to Action:

It addresses a number of dimensions under what the commission calls a “Reconciliation framework for applying the United Nations Declaration.” It asks for:

  • Meaningful consultations,
  • respectful relationships,
  • employment opportunities,
  • informed consent before moving to economic development projects,
  • access to jobs, training and educational opportunities,
  • benefits to aboriginal communities and not just to individuals,
  • education of management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples

Participant 2 reads:

What is level of involvement now?

In 2016, Indigenous Works, the company we mentioned above, commissioned a national study of 500 large and medium sized businesses in Canada. The result reported that 85 percent of companies have no relationships with Indigenous people. Only 2% of corporations were committed partners. (The full report can be found here: the situation is slightly better on the prairies, Manitoba has the weakest engagement with Indigenous people of the three prairie provinces.

Nationally, the study found:

  • Only half of the businesses wanted to do more business with Indigenous groups.
  • Less than half were prioritizing hiring Indigenous people
  • Only a third of businesses considered investing in Indigenous communities as a priority.

In 2020, Gladu and Hyder suggest that “Canada’s role in reconciliation is underappreciated”.

JP Gladu and Goldy Hyder, “Corporate Canada’s Role in Reconciliation is Underappreciated” (The Globe and Mail, Report on Business, Friday February 14, 2020, p. B4.)In a Globe and Mail article, they offer six examples of a trend towards “deeper and more engagement between Indigenous communities and corporate Canada”. However, in spite of these six examples representing billions of dollars, there much remains to be done.

Returning to the “Indigenous Works” document, the authors report that companies offer up to 20 reasons as to why they are not involved with Indigenous communities.

Here are some examples of responses from the corporate leaders:

“Never thought of it”,
“We need people with specific designations so that is our priority,”
“Not applicable to our business,”
“We would if they reached out to us,”
“Never occurred to us,” etc.

Five key factors were identified as to why businesses did not consider such engagement:

  • There are few indigenous people around our business, or if there are, we are unaware of them
  • Indifference; that is, we don’t’ discriminate, but we don’t reach out
  • There is limited value for us in being engaged
  • We don’t really know the situation of Indigenous people very well
  • It is costly to reach out, and we have limited capacity

Participant 3 reads:

Why should business care; the benefits

In October of 2017, Don Drummond, former senior economist with CIBC, now at McMaster University wrote that 52% of the future economic growth of Manitoba will depend upon Indigenous work force participation. In Saskatchewan that number is 72% and is 83% in the Northwest Territories. So, independent of the moral responsibility one could raise, there are economic benefits for business. The Drummond report (Don Drummond and Andrew Sharpe: “Closing Indigenous Socio-Economic Gaps Key to Raising Canada’s Economic Growth, Queen’s University, Kingston: Queen’s University, posted October 2, 2017. estimates that closing the gap would increase the size of the Canadian economy by $36.4 billion by 2031.

The research by Indigenous Works suggested some solutions.
Things that need to change:

  • Businesses want to be approached directly by Indigenous groups
  • Businesses need to see the employment and business potential
  • Businesses need more experience and knowledge on how to do this
  • Economic conditions and policies from government need to change

What supports do businesses need to change?

  1. Guidance from Indigenous groups
  2. Mentorship from experienced businesses
  3. Direction from third parties and from government
    a. On the government side, Drummond identifies several obstacles to be overcome;
    i. Lack of predictability in funding
    ii. Currently there is greater focus on social service funding to the detriment of funding that addresses economic needs
    iii. Lack of high speed broadband in many Indigenous communities
    iv. Need for greater Indigenous autonomy

Participant 4 reads:

So how can businesses proceed?

Let’s back up just a bit. Perry Bellegarde, National Chief stated recently in the Globe and Mail: “Before you try to build anything, build a respectful relationship.” The TRC report – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed to redress the legacy of residential schools – stresses over and over that respectful relationships are the beginning of reconciliation. And the TRC argues this starts with knowing the Truth. The title of the final report of the TRC is called “Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the future.” A business man commented; why worry about the past, let’s just move on to the future.” The TRC refutes that. If we don’t honor the truth of the past, we will never have reconciliation. If we don’t know the past we will never understand intergenerational trauma.

Participant 5 reads:

Another common sentiment about residential schools is the following: “They didn’t know back then what we know now. They didn’t realize it was wrong” (CBC Radio, 2017). However, Dr. Cindy Blackstock, member of the Gitksan First Nation challenges this position by sharing the story about Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce. Dr. Bryce was the chief medical officer for the department of Indian Affairs and the department of immigration. In 1904, he was asked to report on the health conditions of children within the Canadian Indian residential school system in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories. When he released the final report in 1907, Bryce exposed the inhuman and unsanitary conditions of residential schools. Bryce revealed: “It suffices for us to know … that of a total of 1,537 pupils reported upon, nearly 25 per cent are dead,” and “of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.” He continued, “We have created a situation so dangerous to health . . . that I was often surprised that the results were not even worse.”(link to report)

The report was eventually leaked and appeared on the front page of the newspaper that is now the Ottawa Citizen, making the report public knowledge. Despite Bryce’s damning report, none of the report’s recommendations were immediately implemented.

As Cindy Blackstock passionately states, Dr. Bryce’s publicized report “puts a red hot poker stick into this myth that people in the period didn’t know any better back then.”

So we need to first honour the truth.

Participant 6 reads:

Once that truth is acknowledged, then Murray Sinclair’s, Chair of the TRC, message is loud and clear; he says: “Don’t feel guilty about the past, don’t feel shame, they don’t do any good at all, do something about it.”

So let’s return to the role of business. Call to action 92 suggests that as relationships grow, meaningful consultations will grow. The reverse is also true. Honest consultations will lead to relationships. The first baby steps toward partnerships can begin. The most progressive companies are those that develop an internal business strategy as it relates to Indigenous peoples. They have a procurement strategy; an employment strategy. They have benefits sharing.

Participant 7 reads:

Call to Action 92 calls for informed Employment decisions; it calls on corporations to investigate where to find new talent, how to design training, and partnering to support employment of indigenous people; ensure cultural sensitivity, maintain an adoptive and innovative workforce. Companies don’t have to start from scratch. Here are just two examples of opportunities. Indigenous Works is a national non-profit social enterprise headquartered in Saskatoon with “a mandate to improve the inclusion and engagement of Indigenous people in the Canadian economy.” The Manitoba Construction Sector Council trains Indigenous people for jobs. Build, Inc. offers a training program for those Indigenous youth facing barriers to employment. Opportunities for Employment (OFE) is another agency that both trains and seeks employment for people, including Indigenous people. Amik provides employment services. Clayton Sandy, who is key to our Circles for Reconciliation conducts all kinds of workshops on preparing Indigenous people for employment.

Participant 8 reads:

Once reconciliation is on a business radar, business development decisions and community development decisions can also begin to be considered. On the business development side, those interested can being to think about how reconciliation can influence where to open new locations, how to market their business, their procurement policies, mutual development of their business and Indigenous businesses to grow market share, diversify products and service, strengthen reputations

Participant 9 reads:

Companies that begin to think about reconciliation can reflect on community development decisions, specifically what groups or events to sponsor, how to minimize their impact on environment, how to strengthen communities where they operate, invest in education, combine intelligence and information, and identify other opportunities for involvement.

Facilitator reads:

I am now going to pass out a list of possible personal actions and corporate actions you might take (Pass out the “Get involved sheet. Facilitator should have a copy for everyone).

These are examples only.

We are going to go around the circle reading the actions.

Now we will use a talking stick, passed from one to another. Please speak only when you have the talking stick. Let me remind you that we have to be finished by ____ (time) so as you share, please be mindful of the time and remember we want everyone to have a chance to share.

References and resources

  • Don Drummond and Andrew Sharpe: “Closing Indigenous Socio-Economic Gaps Key to Raising Canada’s Economic Growth, Queen’s University, Kingston: Queen’s University, posted October 2, 2017.
  • Indigenous Works
  • JP Gladu and Goldy Hyder, “Corporate Canada’s Role in Reconciliation is Underappreciated” The Globe and Mail, Report on Business, Friday February 14, 2020, p. B4.

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

Eagle feathers in law courts just small step

We’re pleased to have received permission to print this insightful and informative article written by Niigaan Sinclair and published by the Winnipeg Free Press. Here is a link to the article on their website should you wish to read it in that form and appreciate the photos included.


Originally printed by the Winnipeg Free Press 09/27/2019

By Niigaan Sinclair
Forty migizii migwanag — eagle feathers — were honoured at a sunrise ceremony Thursday and later given to Manitoba justice officials for use during court proceedings. Now, for the first official time in history, anyone in a provincial court can hold a feather while testifying or swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible.

“The courts are committed to reconciliation, and the court acknowledges its responsibility to find a meaningful way to include Indigenous people in the court system and to build their confidence in the administration of justice,” said provincial court Judge Margaret Wiebe.

It’s a long time coming. The 1991 Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (AJI), for example, recommended that culturally centred practices be included and integrated throughout all elements of the justice system.

And, it’s a small gesture. The AJI also called for the creation of an Aboriginal justice system, an Aboriginal justice college, and all land claims to be settled.

So, a few dozen feathers, nearly three decades later, is really just a step, and a small step, especially considering the over-incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples. I know many in the Indigenous community who are suspicious that including a few feathers to the court system means nothing.

So, if migizii migwanag are now “an implement of justice in Manitoba,” as elder Ed Azure declared Thursday, it’s crucial we understand what this means.

The blessed eagle feathers were presented to the courts during a special joint sitting of the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Provincial Court of Manitoba on Thursday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
The first thing is: feathers aren’t religious. In fact, there is no Indigenous “religion” one can convert to. Indigenous peoples have spirituality. Spirituality is based in the real-life knowledge, history and lives of Indigenous peoples and manifested in ceremonies, songs and stories. It’s a living tradition.

So, an eagle feather is not a Bible, it’s more like a relative you travel with and learn from.

This is why an eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine.

That’s why you find feathers in talking circles, healing ceremonies, or at a pow-wow. Chiefs also wear them in headdresses and elders give them to future leaders.

The meaning of migizii migwan is found in its name. The word migizii refers to the megis shell, one of our most sacred Anishinaabeg teachings. Anishinaabeg have carried megis shells for a long time, from our thousand-year migration from the eastern shores of North America to our lives in and around the Great Lakes.

Just like the megis, eagles teach us about where we have been and where we are going as a people.

The second word, migwan, refers to two words: miikwan, a verb meaning to “hit the target” and mikan, “to search.” Watching eagles will demonstrate these teachings the best.

People will now be able to hold an eagle feather in Manitoba court rooms while testifying and swearing oaths instead of putting a hand on a Bible. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)
Eagles, for example, fly highest in the sky — as high as 3,000 metres (10,000 feet). They travel hundreds of square kilometres and can spot other eagles and animals up to five kilometres away. Eagles see the “big picture” while pinpointing specific, tiny spaces where food and sustenance can be found.

Eagles protect their young and are territorial, especially when parenting. Mothers lay two to four eggs and share incubation duties with their lifelong partners. Eagle parents do not kick their children out of the nest to teach them how to fly, but coax them out supportively.

“There are no flying lessons,” Anishinaabe writer Richard Wagamese describes in his 2011 book One Story, One Song. “One day the young eaglets stand at the rim of their nest with their whole world in front of them. They can hear the call of their parents high above. To fulfil their destiny and become who they were created to be, each of them must make that first frightening jump.”

An eagle knows that she cannot fly for her child, it must fly for itself.

When in conflict, eagles are fearless and tenacious. They face problems head-first and refuse to run.

So, an eagle teaches us to see the big picture and everything in it, including the needs of tomorrow’s generation. After this search, one can return home and, without fear, tell the truth of the journey.

If this doesn’t hit the target of justice I don’t know what does.

An eagle feather is not something you take or buy, but something gifted to you. Feathers are designed to build community, which is why elders say they have two sides and a spine. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)
But this isn’t the only reason eagle feathers are important for justice.

“Eagle feathers are made up of thousands of tiny filaments,” Wabaseemoong Anishinaabe elder Jack Kakaway explains. “An eagle has to control them all, whether the wind is blowing or the air is still. Only that skill will keep the eagle aloft.”

Anyone who has touched a feather knows what Kakaway means. A feather is like a living being, thriving even after leaving an eagle. The oil in its spine keeps its filaments connected. When they are separated, all one has to do is gently stroke the middle spine and distribute the oils so the filaments reconnect.

When eagles experience this, such as when they get wet or in a fight, they will rub against a rock or another eagle, caring for itself. If an eagle shows enough patience and care for herself, she can fly again.

When people speak the truth, no matter how hard it is or how much it hurts, they also repair the filaments. They connect people, heal harms and create a positive path to the future.

Like the feather citizens can now hold in a Manitoba court room, people will now be able to bravely help us all come together, soar to the highest heights and see the big picture.

This is how, just maybe, migizi migwan will teach us all to fly.

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.