• Eugene Stickland

Talking Circles

As you know, the Stardale organization created a film this summer called The Road that was awarded “Best Short Documentary” at the Montreal Independent Film Festival. One thing that might be easily overlooked and that I am particularly proud of is the fact that we actually completed a project during a summer that was in so many ways challenging and difficult for all of us.

I suspect not a lot of projects have been completed this year due to the protocols in place and the distracting low-grade anxiety that most of us have been living with since February. Many artists of my acquaintance have complained that it is hard to focus in these pandemic times, given the fear that weighs on all of us which gives rise to frustration and isolation, even loneliness, fatigue and a sense of despair that it may never end. We are all dealing with these emotions every day, not just artists. And so we ask ourselves, how are we meant to cope? How do we rise above and keep moving forward?

Creating The Road in this difficult year was for those of us who had the chance to work on it a beautiful distraction from the day to day drudgery of the pandemic. Receiving an award like we did prolonged the experience. But now that distraction is over. We have patted ourselves on the back and given each other air high-fives. That can only go on so long. And now, it’s back to reality.

A few weeks ago, Helen McPhaden took a look around and asked herself, how our girls in the Stardale class are coping with this reality, day in, day out? What is it like for them? In order to find out first hand, Helen, along with our elder Wanda First Rider, arranged a talking circle as a way for the girls to talk openly about how life is for them right now.

A talking circle is a deceptively simple idea –at the heart of it, obviously, you sit in a circle and you talk. Chances are many of our readers will have found themselves in a talking circle somewhere along the road for any of a variety of reasons. It is a very old and time-honoured tradition among indigenous people, predicated on the energy that is derived from sitting in a circle; and the respect given to the person who is speaking. In traditional speaking circles, a sacred object is passed around the circle, and held by the person whose turn it is to speak. In our case, this was a beautiful eagle feather provided by Wanda. When the person holding the feather speaks, all the others provide support for the speaker by listening respectfully.

It’s quite amazing how simple and effective this is – not to mention how emotional. All of us have a lot of pent-up emotions these days. When given the chance to flow, they really flow. You can only believe that it is a tremendously cathartic experience for all involved.

One of the tenets of the talking circle is that what is said in the circle, what is shared, goes no farther than the circle. It would not be cool at all for me to share anything I heard that night. But I would offer that the experience made me acutely aware of just how fragile and vulnerable these girls really are.

If you are tired of the pandemic, experiencing pandemic fatigue as it is know, living as you do in a stable home, with a bit of money in the bank, food in the fridge, bills all paid, well then, imagine how exhausting and depressing this time is for people, like a lot of our girls, who have none of that. Every day, they face the great uncertainty in an often hostile world. It was bad enough before. These days, it can be almost unbearable.

A talking circle won’t change any of that. But by hearing and sharing stories that come from the heart, sharing tears even, maybe it will help provide the courage to carry on, knowing we are not alone, we are all in this together. It may even provide the one thing that world is so desperately short of these days: Hope.

Another talking circle is being planned for the near future.

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