The sun and sky, the earth and moon are round like the shield, though the sky is deep like a bowl. Everything that breathes is round like the body of man. Everything that grows from the ground is round like the stem of a tree. Since the Great Spirit has caused everything to be round, mankind should look upon the circle as sacred for it is the symbol of all things in nature. For these reasons we sit in a circle in all ceremonies
— Black Elk

The Healing Circle

Young Women's Leadership Retreat at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa, ON

Young Women's Leadership Retreat at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa, ON

The Healing Circle is symbolic of the cycle of life; all beings are interrelated.The Elders and the teachers use the Talking Circle as a place to teach important lessons about the sanctity of all life: the trees, water, the sky, plants, animals and all four races. In the Circle, people internalize and verbalize the learning. It is through listening and sharing that we learn how to get in touch with our true selves.

Medicine Wheel table by Vincent Dumoulin, Cedar and Gold

Medicine Wheel table by Vincent Dumoulin, Cedar and Gold

Goals of the Healing Circle:

  • to begin the healing process
  • to promote understanding
  • to prevent or solve problems
  • to build trust
  • to respect each person and oneself
  • to share common experiences
  • to realize that we are not alone
  • to learn from other and learn about life
  • to identify personal issues which help us to understand to grow

Our approach applies traditional Native vales of respect, honesty, wisdom, love, bravery and humility. Sharing, learning, caring and trusting create support, which makes the Circle healthy and strong. It helps break the cycle of isolation, shame and blame. Kindness and support add up to generosity and faith, all of which are intertwined with cultural values and integrity, and which helps the participants to progress. Tradition and ceremony teach us about the importance of values and rituals. Our Native values are the integral foundation of the Circle. With these values come the building of character, which teaches us about compassion, responsibility, cooperation and commitment. 

The Circle is a safe place where the participants are able to work on their healing process. By doing so we help ourselves, which in turn has a ripple effect on our family and friends and eventually on our community. A healthy relationship within the family and within the community is important. It is hard to hide in a circle; therefore, when you are part of a circle, you are responsible and a part of everything.

Opening Circle prepared for Women's Wellness Gathering in Alert Bay, BC.

Opening Circle prepared for Women's Wellness Gathering in Alert Bay, BC.

Protocol + Process

A male and female act as Circle Keepers who assist in various aspects of preparation, facilitation, and maintenance. When the circle begins, they smudge themselves first, then everything in the centre of the Circle. Participants stand in a cirlce, and a Keeper will smudge each person. The other Circle Keeper sings Native songs or chants and drums while the smudging is taking place, as a form of prayer.

Smudging involves burning one or more of our traditional Medicines - Sweetgrass, Sage and/or Cedar and bringing the smoke over our head and body with our hands. At the same time, we pray to rid ourselves of any negativity, which can create barriers in the healing process. Smudging simply clears the way for clarity to emerge. Symbolically, we are washing ourselves in the smoke, thereby cleansing our bodies, minds and spirits.

Abalone shell filled with White Buffalo Sage

Abalone shell filled with White Buffalo Sage

Protocol refers to the expected norms, attitudes and behaviours associated with the group process. The Circle is premised upon respect, non-interference and the recognition that the Spirits of our Ancestors and teh Creator are present to guide us through the healing process. IN this method of healing, we pray for guidance and ask for the participants to exercise care and respect when speaking.

  • Sacredness of the Circle - smoking or profanity is prohibited. If someones uses profanity while holding the Eagle Feather, that person must Smudge the Eagle feather before passing it to the next person
  • Confidentiality - Who speaks and what is said stays within the Circle. This shows repsect and builds trust for each other.
  • Non-Judgement - We are all considered equal in the eyes of the Creator. We try to be open and honest about ourselves and not hurt others with our words.
  • Keeping the Circle - participants make a commitment to attend and remain until the Circle is completed. Once the Circle has begun, no one disrupts the Circle by getting up and leaving.
  • No interruption - we respect each other by being silent when someone is sharing.
  • Crying and tears - This is a good and natural healing process. When a person is crying, do not be quick to offer tissues or touch, allow the person to process their emotions by offering a box of tissues. If a person is crying uncontrollably, the Circle Keeper may place the smudge bowl at their feet so the Medicines will comfort them. 

After everyone has finished smudging, we remain standing and we all hold hands while someone says an opening prayer. We ask someone in the Circle to say a prayer in their own way. Prayers are an integral part of the Healing Circle and are said to open and close the Circle.

The Circle Keepers welcomes everyone and explains how the Circle is conducted, which includes the goals and the protocol of the Circle. Each person introduces her/himself. An object such as an Eagle Feather, a Talking Stick or a stone is passed around the Circle in a clockwise or sometimes counter-clockwise direction, depending on the practices of the Nation. Whoever holds the Feather or Stick may speak about what they wish to share or they may pass the feather to the next person. Whoever holds the Feather is respected with silence; no one speaks while the person holds the Feather. The person can speak for as long as they need to; there is no time limit.

When the Circle is complete, whereby each participant has expressed themselves fully, the Circle is closed by giving and receiving hugs or shaking hands with all participants to build trust and support within the Circle. Often the process includes sharing a meal together after the Circle.

<< The Circle provides support and encouragement, which is given through listening and not by offering advice >>

   Photo of Jessica Barudin by David Roth

   Photo of Jessica Barudin by David Roth

The Healing Process

In the centre of the circle, we place a round piece of leather on the floor, which represents the Animals. We place a number of items on it: the four Medicines - Tobacco, Sage, Sweetgrass and Cedar, which represent the Earth; a candle which represents the elements of Air and Fire; and an abalone shell filled with Water which represents the element of Water. 

<< The is a sense of well-being when we restore our connection to the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water >>

We learn that healing takes a lot of hard work, that there are no quick fixes or magic cures. Healing is a life long process and needs to be maintained; it requires ongoing work. Healing involves all the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of a person. The healing process involves different ways of expressing emotions, such as talking, crying, laughing, yelling and releasing emotions. Healing deals with all aspects of the person and exemplifies the ideology of walking in balance with the body, mind and spirit. Healing begins when a person shows up and is ready to listen and/or talk about what is bothering them. The Healing circle is very simple, basic and real. 


This article is a condensed version of a full article "The Circle of Healing" written by Jean Stevenson used with her permission. Please see full details here, which includes in depth about other key aspects of Healing Circles.

The Circle of Healing by Jean Stevenson, M.S.W., Cree of Peguis First Nation, Manitoba.


Healing Circles

We offer Healing Circles, facilitated by elders, Jean Stevenson and Delbert SampsonThis is a powerful method for personal growth, team-building, empowerment, and self-care. Ideal for youth groups, organizations, and families.

Comment