by Dianna Bennett
Community Engagement using Peacemaking Circles is not a novel concept, us European types are just slow learners. Circles have been used over the millennia by many first nations around the world. The first people’s (aka indigenous peoples) used Circle process to make serious decisions that impacted all in the community. Indigenous peoples understood connectedness and the sacredness of our connection to each other in community. Therefore they had a process that was inclusive and egalitarian. Storytelling was used to develop a deeper understanding of each other, and to convey historic communal wisdom. Additionally speaking the truth was also core to the process. Circles were used to resolve conflicts, decide how to respond to “crimes” and repair the harm caused by them, and also to celebrate achievements and special occasions.
This process was recently used in Red Deer, Alberta to help facilitate a new direction for the High Risk Youth Coalition (HRYC). The project was called Community Accountability for High Risk Youth (CAHRY) and focused on finding a way to enhance the Collective Impact of the membership of the Red Deer HRYC. The Coalition was awarded a micro grant for the CAHRY Project based on a proposal to utilize a series of Community (Capacity) Building Circles to bring their stakeholders together to collaborate and jointly address the issues and needs impacting the diverse group of high risk youth in Red Deer. A series of three consecutive Circle events were recently held in April and May.
Peacemaking Circles in the modern sense and in accordance with the Kay Pranis model create the ultimate form of democracy with every voice counting, and promotes participants arriving at consensus. This is achieved by following the steps of the Peacemaking Circle process. Each Circle begins with the development of shared core values and guidelines of conduct which are designed to bring each participants “best self” to the Circle. Through using the process to create the egalitarian and reverential space, and the use of a talking piece, you would be surprised how much work can get done that is meaningful and authentic yet outcomes based. “Goodbye meetings about meetings.”