Five years ago I attended my first Talking Circle, which was at the close of a two day conference on the Wind River Indian Reservation about the prevalence of sexual assault of Indigenous people. I vaguely recall some of the presentations, but what I most remember is the Talking Circle and how powerful it was. We pulled our chairs into a large circle without a table or anything inside the circle. There was a talking stick and it was explained that you could only speak if you held the talking stick. It was passed around the circle from left to right. We had the option of saying nothing or sitting in silence for a while if we wanted, before passing it on. Or we could speak for as long as we wanted telling what was on our hearts in response to the question the circle keeper had asked. Nearly everyone had a story. We were all experts in our own way. We were all equal. No one interrupted. There was no cross-talking or side-conversations.
Since then I have been involved in several other Talking Circles that I consider sacred including for meetings. Recently several people here became certified Circle Keepers to facilitate the process in the Indigenous way for healing, for restorative justice, for building understanding and for peace-making. The Riverton Peace Mission decided this past winter to try Talking Circles for community healing after the tragic shooting of Andy Antelope, a Northern Arapaho, by a Riverton City police officer at Walmart and after officials had refused to participate in an inquest or to consider criminal charges declaring the shooting was in self-defense.
Our first Talking Circle was held in January in partnership with the Circle Keepers organized by L’Dawn Olsen of Eastern Shoshone descent. Fifty attended. We scheduled a second one for March that was cancelled with the outbreak of COVID-19. We turned our focus to raising funds for emergency food and hygiene products for the Wind River Indian Reservation in cooperation with the Wyoming Interfaith Network. We received and distributed over $30,000 with about $20,000 coming from Presbyterian Churches (USA) in Wyoming.
We formed an informal network meeting by conference calls that we called the Wind River Mutual Aid. To become more manageable, we broke up into pods – one on food, one on communications, etc. When we became aware of racist incidents, we formed a Justice Pod deciding that justice cannot wait until this pandemic is over and planned a Talking Circle by Zoom for Saturday, May 23rd, 11 am to 2 pm, for community healing from racism and to seek community harmony.
I encourage you to join us. Register now at www.rivertonpeacemission.org to receive your invitation for the Zoom meeting on May 23, 11 am to 2 pm. Each will have an opportunity to speak and listen to the voices of Native Americans and of aspiring allies as we address racism in our community. You need not live in Fremont County to participate, just be a caring human being.
- Chesie Lee, former director of WIN and co-founder of the Riverton Peace Mission