Creation of the Restoring Circles Project

The Restoring Circles Project began in January 2014 with the question:

“What’s going to stop the violence? With all the programs and institutions, what’s the missing piece?”

Talking about transforming the fundamental social context of genocide, colonization and hyper-capitalism, we then asked,

“How do we work together, as Indigenous and ally people, to change the culture of violence? Can we live it as collaborators?

We were a mixed group – 3 Indigenous counselors, and a white woman, sitting at a table with a commitment to collaborate protocols to prevent and intervene on relationship violence. For each of us, the commitment was personal. The Founding Group was Ruth Alfred, Jackson Dionne, Dawna Silver and Christine Spinder.

What followed is 5 years of collaborating to mobilize community knowledge of what works to stop violence. We hosted 24 workshops and joined over 80 community circles from 2014-2018, partnering with and working with staff and Elders from Journeys Around the Circle Society, Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, BC Status of Women Council, Vancouver Aboriginal Transformative Justice Services Society, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, the Urban Native Youth Association, RainCity Housing, and community members aged 17 – 78.

Our principles were knowledge mobilization, action-research, co-creation and allyship.

Coming from across the inner city urban Indigenous community, 84 participants aged 18 – 82 returned again and again throughout the consultations.

Together, we set out a way of dialoguing and co-creating that opened up collective systems thinking, all the way down to our core cultural belief, and enabled us, with many contributors, to innovate new ways of being, healing, relating and collaborating that build systemically and inclusively.

Central to the Restoring Circles Project is that most mainstream social development models originally source from Indigenous culture: think of Circle process, NonViolent Communication, Narrative Therapy, Systems Thinking, Maslow’s Triangle of Actualization, and Embodied Mindfulness, to start. These all source from Indigenous cultures.

So we brought them back. The RCP project framed them back into a platform of holistic, integrated Indigenous cultural processes that guide Self/Being as holistic and in-the-moment, in collective reciprocal belonging of full systemic awareness, emergent social innovation in place-based, moment by moment co-development, grounded in land-based protocols of ceremony, sustainability and inclusion, because that’s simply how the real universe works. And it works in organizations, too.

Writing it all up was supported by a grant from BC Civil Forfeiture in 2016. With public release of the base Toolkit September 2016, 28 Urban Aboriginal teachers, counselors, artists and their collaborators from 16 urban Indigenous agencies said, “You’ve done it. This is reconciliation. This is restorative justice.”

That’s what they called it. Full Circle. In Winter 2017, Elders who had worked with us for years said, ‘OK, now its time for you to go teach this. Train Trainers, and work alongside them to make sure everything is integrated and committed to, in Circle.

June 2018 – March 2019 saw the launch of our first pilot in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, supported with Social Innovation grants from the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Foundation, and the Urban Aboriginal Community Response Network became the Restoring Collective. We worked with Elders and artists in the neighbourhood, and more folks joined the Collective: Haida Elder Sandra Greene, Cree Elder and artist Patricia Tuckanow, and Anishanabe community organizer Kaen Seguin.

18 participants from 10 inner city agencies gathered for 2 days every month, each of them bringing their many years experience as counselors, artists, case managers, organizers and educators. We learnt, explored, tested, adapted, deepened and expanded. We made drums and cedar bracelets and gave them away. The cohort was 2/3 Turtle Island Indigenous, with others from Mexico, Bangladesh, the US, and with 3 Euro-Canadians. Participating agencies were Burnaby Family Life, Culture Saves Lives, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, RainCity Housing, Together We Can Recovery Society, Treehouse Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, and Vantage Point.

They told us, “These workshops are what get me through the month. You’ve done it. This builds reconciliation. This builds nonviolence. Build us a second year. And let’s get these practices into our organizations.”

Winter, 2019: We’re adapting the next level of the Toolkit, and are preparing to deliver with partner organizations.

 

THANKS TO OUR EARLY YEARS ORGANIZATIONS

It was a lot of work off the sides of our 4 desks for many years. In the early years, our employing organizations supported a long-term experiment. Gathered as the Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Community Response Network that first January 2014, each organization below supported the Founding Group members’ time on the project.

Now formed as the Restoring Circles Society, we want to appreciate these organizations for their roles in supporting the project’s early development.

  • Ruth Alfred was working as the Elder Support Worker for the Pacific Association of First Nation Women, until September 2017. PAFNW supporter Ruth’s time with the project.

 

  • Jackson Dionne, until December 2016, worked at Native Counselors and Courtworkers Association, who provided meeting space for 3 years, joined us to 40+ Community Circles, and supported catering and curriculum contributions from several other staff.

 

  • Dawna Silver is a counselor with the Responsible and Problem Gambling Program- Aboriginal Branch, who contributed extensive funds to support workshop trainers and outreach, Dawna’s time with the development group, and her drafting modules on Narrative Therapy and Ho-oponopono.

 

  • Christine Spinder was a Regional Mentor with BC Association of Community Response Networks, and her job was to facilitate community collaboration tables across Metro Vancouver. BC CRN supported funding for extensive project development time, fees for workshops and contributors, and network contacts to the project until March 2018.