Who has knowledge?

This is a community mobilization approach to knowledge: letting the collective knowledge of the community guide your work together.

Indigenous Learning Circles

In this video, Tracy Coates, a professor from Canada, talks about circle learning.  Tracy is Mohawk, which is one of the Indigenous communities in Canada. The Indigenous peoples of Canada are the people who were there before Europeans arrived, and they still retain their culture, their steadfastness, and their connection to the land today.  Circle learning is an Indigenous Canadian form of learning.



Often times, people assume that knowledge is something that exists outside of themselves.  In the Western Christian tradition, perhaps we think about the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden–something that we go and pick, eat, and then know.  But a circle learning methodology assumes that you already know a lot of things.  You are the expert on your life and your experiences, as well as on many other things that you have learned about over time, from the people who have formed you and who you care about.  Everyone has something to share.

The other crucial element of a circle learning methodology is that, just as you already know many things which matter, and which enable you to think through questions, so does everyone else.  Imagine a group of people sitting in a circle, looking towards something in the centre of the room. Some see it from the front, others from the back, others from the side. Maybe some are closer to it, while others are further.  Maybe some people see it in light, and others see its shadow. Each of them can only tell one story about what the image looks like. But together, they can describe it much more fully. This circle is your community, and the object in the middle is a problem you all face.  You, by yourself, cannot see everything about it. You need to speak with other people in order to move your analysis forward, and be able to understand how you might be able to make a change.

Al Saraya Centre

Often people who want to work with communities assume they are experts.  Perhaps this is because of what they have learned in a university, or because they come from outside and have a new perspective.  But a circle learning perspective argues against this. You certainly have expertise in some areas, because of your life experiences and training.  But that does not make you an expert in what people want, what they think, and what they have learned by living their lives. Circle learning requires humility from those who come to learn.  Without this humility, you will be closed to all the knowledge that will be shared with you–and your work will suffer for it.

Heyam Alyan is the executive Director of Al Saraya Centre, a community centre in the Old City of Jerusalem.  She works with communities struggling under military occupation who live in very constrained spaces and lack economic and social opportunity.  In this video, she describes how members from the community work together, and how that helps them to identify their problems and find solutions.

(Next Lesson) Relationality and Accountability
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