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.
I am so pleased to have you guys here with me today, it’s such an honour to be able to teach and to explore ideas and concepts with people like yourself and I’m really excited about what I get to talk about today. So let’s get started. The way that I approach education is from a more traditional first nation’s methodology, which means that um in the west the way it is traditionally done is in more of a hierarchy top down approach.
So you see this in all kinds of different systems in the west, pretty much every structure whether you’re talking about foreign development or governance or anything like that it works from this top down structure where you have someone at the top who’s elite talking to the people here and this would be your professor in a traditional teaching format. And these would be the students like yourselfs. This isn’t how I do things. From where I come from a first nation’s perspective specifically Mohawk and Cree is where my teaching are from, we do things very very differently.
Our leadership system, our governance structure, everything is recognized as coming from the bottom and going up.So you don’t have this system where you have someone who’s talking at the very front and you’re stuck in your chairs and you literally often cannot even move your chairs and you’re supposed to listen and learn to the knowledge that the person who’s at the front that authority figure is teaching you.This isn’t how we do things because you have so much to contribute.
You have so much knowledge, so much experience so much beautiful ideas to contribute to learning, why would I wanna stand up here and go on and on and on and not learn from you and allow you to learn from each other?
So that’s the approach that we have its more balanced. It’s more inclusive. It recognizes the value of your knowledge as well as the value of my knowledge.
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.
In our experience, we saw that a community that has a lot of problems, a lot of issues, a lot of times there are taboos in subjects in which to speak of.
The best thing is to be in a group from the fabric of the community itself, we are speaking of a group of youth together (either men or women separately), technically these people came as a group and formed as a good group. It instills a sense of trust, a lot of topics can be introduced, which no other human can think would be heard or a person can hear this issue in the group and hear that the rest of the group has the same issues and he doesn’t know. And he thinks this is the biggest the problem in the world and he is alone in it. But through working with the group he will see a lot of people having this issue and that a lot of people have found a solution to it.
Many times, he might not even have to speak, but he hears things that touch him and affect him not exactly touch him but maybe are a solution to an issue he is suffering from. Or maybe support for him from someone else who lives the same situation, same life, but that person has the ability to solve his own problems, so the (original person) feels like he, too, can solve his own issues.
So, this work between groups is very great especially when it’s been worked on for a long time. Make groups for cumulative work on the long run. We can’t make a group for 2 months and leave them. The group has to be formed and be built on and built on and take in information, and this group can help other groups from the same community, same issues, same circumstance, same culture, like this they can evolve and help other evolve in a faster pace for change than when someone outside the community comes in and works with the groups.