Transformational Storytelling in the Way of Indigenous Communities

My journey to Stonebridge: A Bridge for Transformational Relationships began with a vision birthed by indigenous people from the Yukon whose personal, storytelling circle process revealed an ancient path of wisdom. I learned that their circles held an essential truth that storytelling, like the parables in biblical narrations, form the foundation for building authentic relationships and authentic communities.

Over the years, while journeying with Native Americans across the country and being trained in the circle process by Phil and Harold Gatensby from the Yukon, I learned that honest, personal storytelling opens hearts.

Biblical stories also point to the process of transformational storytelling. While in circle, we are awakened to a communal exchange based on values of forgiveness, trust, inclusivity, acceptance, and respect. The circle provides a sacred space because of the values each participant embraces. The circle process is based on the belief that coming together to heal deep-seated emotional wounds is essential for peace within communities.

The birth of Stonebridge emerged from this vision of the Yukon’s indigenous people and from a recognition that a circle gathering space was needed to enable the St. Paul/Minneapolis communities to come together. Stonebridge is a place where misunderstandings are reshaped, divisions are bridged, and hope is embraced. The vision of Stonebridge was supported by a St. Paul community member who generously opened the basement of her home for the Center’s location.

An empty peacemaking circle at Stonebridge: A Bridge for Transformational Relationships

As a religious sister in the Catholic Church, I believe now is a critical time to renew the truth of our faith by using circles to bring forth the wisdom of love that will unite us as people and as communities. This is also the belief of Black Elk, spiritual leader of the Lakota nation who became Catholic and has an open cause for sainthood. This sacred process of gathering in circle passed on to us by indigenous people is modeled after their traditional way of holding council to resolve conflicts and reach resolutions. The sacred process of gathering in circles today is through Restorative Justice Circles.

Having been trained as a Restorative Justice Circle facilitator, I have held circles in juvenile detention facilities and schools, at the Volunteers of America women’s correctional facility in St. Paul, at various county venues, and while working within the Church at the Archdiocesan level.  Each circle I facilitated gave me the opportunity to witness the Gospel’s message contained in the Beatitudes. Building a Home for the Heart: Using Metaphors in Value-Centered Circles a book I co-authored with Susan Thompson, highlights the challenges faced by women incarcerated and how, through the circle, they were transformed and were able to find their individual paths to healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

Today, shifts are needed to manifest reconciliation within communities and institutions. These shifts require us to strive for the common good.

When our voices are heard and valued, life can emerge through healthy relationships. Like circle values, Christian values create the basis for compassion and peace.

Circles at Stonebridge offer the possibility of wide-ranging shifts in our community because it is where we speak from our hearts by telling our stories, by finding acceptance, and by giving each other permission to move forward.  

Circles that foster trust and equality hold the key to love.