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Talking Circle for everyone

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 13, 2007

FORT SMITH - If people in Fort Smith and Fort Fitzgerald want to talk about personal or community problems, they now have somewhere new they can go.

Francois Paulette, an elder with Smith's Landing First Nation, launched a Talking Circle three months ago.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Francois Paulette displays the talking stone used in the Talking Circle held each month in Fort Fitzgerald. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

"A Talking Circle is for people to talk about issues they may have," Paulette said.

That may include issues about their spiritual self, emotional and mental health, and physical well-being, he said.

The Talking Circle is held monthly at the Smith's Landing community centre in Fort Fitzgerald, Alta., about 22 kilometres south of Fort Smith.

Paulette said the Talking Circle is open to everyone in the two communities, not just members of Smith's Landing.

Paulette said there are very few rules at a Talking Circle.

People are encouraged to use the word "I" when talking instead of "you," so that they talk about themselves and not others.

"There's no cross-talk," Paulette added. "When somebody is talking, you don't interrupt."

That is emphasized by a talking stone, which is placed in the centre of the circle at the beginning of a gathering. If someone wants to speak, he or she will pick up the stone - a heavy, dark brown rock Paulette found along the Mackenzie River.

"For the Dene, it's a medicine rock," he said. "For the individual in possession of the rock, the anger, the jealousy or whatever, all of that is channelled through the rock and the rock takes in that."

Confidentiality is also a key.

Paulette said people have to build trust in the Talking Circle.

"People can talk and feel secure," he said. "It's not going to become gossip."

The Talking Circle began in May and is held on the second Monday of each month.

"So far it's just been pockets of four or five people," Paulette said.

However, he expects the numbers will pick up after the summer as the Talking Circle becomes better known and people begin to feel more secure in it.

So far, there have been discussions about many issues - residential schools, alcohol and drug use, vandalism and the need for more cultural activities, for example.

Paulette explained a Talking Circle is a Dene tradition in which everyone - from leaders to children - could have an opportunity to speak.

"They were quite open and frank about what they were feeling," he said.

These days, Paulette said many people are in denial of their problems and there is less trust among people.

"In a Talking Circle, doors become open to you," he said. "It's up to the individual to go through that door."