The Riverbank Discovery Centre is now home to the All Nations Sharing Circle.
Nestled in a crook of the vibrant valley around which Brandon is built, between a hill and the mighty Assiniboine River, the circle has a fire pit at its centre and seating all around.
The sharing circle, a traditional Indigenous practice, offers all participants the opportunity to speak and be heard. Here, decisions are made and issues resolved.
The protocol may seem strict for some people, but it’s all about respect.
You can’t leave once the sharing circle has begun, explained Frank Tacan, knowledge keeper at the Brandon Friendship Centre. And unless you are the one holding the stone, the feather or the talking stick, listen. Your turn will come.
The name for the All Nations Sharing Circle came up in conversation between the centre’s general manager, James Montgomery, and city councillor and Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council member Kris Desjarlais
Tacan led a blessing ceremony in May, before construction began, during which he stated he was requesting that good come of the sharing circle — good for all people participating.
"It’s an opportunity to dedicate more of our public space to Indigenous culture and traditions, but not for exclusive use to Indigenous people," Desjarlais said.
"Everyone benefits from sharing circles. Everyone can benefit from a place to share openly, or not share and be active listeners, without anyone controlling or no hierarchy."
Montgomery said he has been thinking about such a space for three years or so. In "Back to the River, Brandon’s Assiniboine River Corridor Master Plan 2015-2035," there is a planned Indigenous-led Spirit Park, but that won’t happen for a couple of years yet. Montgomery wanted something sooner and on site.
Massive concrete bricks on another part of the property needed to be removed and Montgomery thought to place them around an old abandoned picnic area. Upon doing some research he came across the Education Garden and the Medicine Wheel Garden in Toronto and the Water Conservation Garden in Kingston. Out of that came the idea to create the sharing circle.
The space is almost ready for use. Construction material is scarce as a result of the pandemic, but Montgomery said it’s almost completed and can be used. The fire pit is locked, and those who might want to lead a sharing circle with a fire, can book the site at the centre. Otherwise, when it’s not reserved, anyone can access the space.
"We don’t want anybody to own the sharing circle," Desjarlais said. "So it invites anybody to use it, and it will be available to Indigenous and non-Indigenous, community and visitors."
Unlike some Indigenous sacred ceremonies, he said the sharing circle is not a culturally protected ceremony.
"It’s something everyone benefits from and it’s open to everyone. Like smudging. Everyone can smudge if they so choose. Now, if you’re going for a vision quest or go for a naming ceremony, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. But, there are some universally acceptable cultural norms that that are open to everyone."
For example, the sharing of the seven teachings are open to everyone.
In fact, Tacan offered advice for signage in development for the sharing circle and suggested the seven sacred teachings be prominent at the site.
The signs will most likely include the seven sacred teachings as guidance for conducting a sharing circle.
"I’m amazed at the dialogue that happens in a sharing circle. I’m amazed. Every time, it’s meaningful. Every time, you hear from someone you haven’t heard from before. You hear something you haven’t heard before," Desjarlais said. "It’s raw and genuine and authentic"
Desjarlais, who works at Assiniboine Community College, was asked to run a sharing circle for college leadership and couldn’t believe how genuine everyone was.
"These are all professionals but, right now, they’re human beings. You just don’t get that in committee meetings. Everybody’s got their protections up and their how-to-dos up," he said. "It’s such an amazing experience and we need we need more of that."
He thinks good things will happen in the new sharing circle.
"We might not agree on everything, but we definitely agree to disagree, and that’s OK. And we’re going to all move forward and agree in principle on something."
» Michèle LeTourneau is the community co-ordinator for the Brandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples’ Council, an arm’s length advisory council to the City of Brandon.