facilitating & hosting

Integrating local culture into circle teachings

During The Circle Way practicums I get to be involved with teaching, we spend some time exploring the topic of sustaining healthy circles: that there are unspoken elements that need to be discussed or tended to or they have the potential to erode or destroy our best intentions.


“That’s the key idea: issues arise when people get together. We’ve been noticing this since the first stranger wandered into the firelight, sat on the wrong rock, and committed a social faux pas. How do we create and sustain community when we are all imperfect? How do we handle our volatility and vulnerability and keep focused on the purpose of the group? To address these questions, we start with an assumption: most of the time, most people are trying to offer the best of themselves to a group’s experience, and we stumble and fumble and thrwart that process unintentionally. Part of the resilience of leadership at the rim is becoming aware of how these dynamics show up and helping ourselves and others get through the rough spots and get on with our vision, intention, and appreciation of each other’s presence.” ~ The Circle Way by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, page 128

A gift from Christina and Ann’s consulting and teaching work was using four animals to help describe these unspoken elements or dynamics: the elephant – what comes forward for healing/wholeness – wounds, conflict, shadow – and if ignored gets bigger and bigger, the giraffe – calls us to lift our head up and see the long view or the bigger picture, the lion of courage to speak truth (without judgment, blame or shaming), and monkey business of fun, laughter, camaraderie that shows up (or we feel its absence). The components of The Circle Way creates the stability to engage with these dynamics in a healthy way.


At the practicum in Tofino last May, one of our principles was to centre local Nuu-chah-nulth culture into the experience as much as possible (the term Nuu-chah-nulth is used to describe fifteen related tribes whose traditional home is on the west coast of Vancouver Island). This happened beautifully in many ways, and one of my favourite was thinking about the four animals. I asked our local hosts, Kelly and Dawn, what animals from their indigenous teachings would partner with these very distant cousins.


What emerged was four culturally significant animals, and when we taught this segment during the practicum, we introduced them together: the whale (ʔiitup/kakawin), the eagle (ciixwatin), the wolf (qwayatciik), and the hummingbird (saasin). The stuffed toys nestled together in our centre.


The ʔiitup/kakawin and the elephant snuggling in our centre


But the story doesn’t end here. Kelly, in her work across the province, has continued to use the four animals. She’s created a handout and a poster, and is collecting more words and animals, inviting people to write on the poster to add their cultural wisdom. With Kelly’s permission the handout is included here – may it inspire.


I love how these teachings from The Circle Way are adaptable to support the context we’re in, and to contribute to the hope and healing these times are calling for.


Join Kelly Poirier, myself, Dawn Foxcroft and Tenneson Woolf in Tofino, unceded ƛaʔuukwiiʔatḥ territories, British Columbia Canada from May 1 to 4, 2018 for The Circle Way Practicum. Early bird pricing ends February 15 – don’t miss the chance to save and reserve your spot as space is limited. Learn more at

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