Talking circles, peacemaking circles, or healing circles, as they are variously called, are deeply rooted in the traditional practices of indigenous people. In North America, they are widely used among the First Nations people of Canada and among the many tribes of Native Americans in the US. Healing circles take a variety of forms, but most basically, members sit in a circle to consider a problem or a question. The circle starts with a prayer, usually by the person convening the circle, or by an elder, when an elder is involved. A talking stick is held by the person who speaks (other sacred objects may also be used, including eagle feathers and fans). When that person is finished speaking, the talking stick is passed to the left (clockwise around the circle). Only the person holding the stick may speak. All others remain quiet. The circle is complete when the stick passes around the circle one complete time without anyone speaking out of turn. The talking circle prevents reactive communication and directly responsive communication, and it fosters deeper listening and reflection in conversation. It also provides a means for people who are prohibited from speaking directly to each other because of various social taboos to speak and be heard. Healing circles are often called hocokah in the Lakota language, which means a sacred circle and is also the word for altar. The hocokah consists of people who sit together in a talking circle, in prayer, in ceremony, and are committed to helping one another and to each other’s healing. Hocokahs may participate together in purification and other ceremonies and usually camp together when traveling to larger gatherings, such as the sun dance. Healing circles have been used for recovery from alcoholism in aboriginal communities, especially when the traditional spirituality of those communities are perceived to conflict with the assumptions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
The talking circle process is a unique instructional approach that can be used to stimulate multicultural awareness while fostering respect for individual differences and facilitating group cohesion. The creation of the talking circle is often credited to the Woodland tribes in the Midwest North America, who used it as a form of parliamentary procedure. Human beings live, breathe and move, giving additional impetus to the circular movement, provided they live harmoniously, according to the circle’s vibratory movement. Every seeker has a chance to eventually discover a harmonious way of living with their environment according to these precepts.” Talking circles were a traditional form of education from early childhood through adulthood and provided a way to pass on knowledge, values, and culture. This method of education instilled respect for another’s viewpoint and encouraged members to be open to other viewpoints by listening with their hearts while another individual speaks.