The Way of Council

“When Native people speak, they are not talking from the head, relating some theory, mentioning what they read in a book, or what someone else has told them. Rather, they speak from the heart, from the traditions of their people, and from the knowledge of their land: they speak of what they have seen and heard and touched, and what has been passed on to them by the traditions of their people. It is their inner silence that allows them to listen to the prompting of their hearts and to the subtle resonances that lie within each word of a language and which, when uttered, reverberate throughout the world.”

– David F Peat


For thousands of years, human beings have sat together in circles to speak their truth and to better understand both one another and the world. Many cultures around the world have used some form of held space for sharing, enabling them to become closer, hear each other, work through challenges and resolve conflicts. ‘The Way of Council’ is a technique developed based on the core principles of this ancient practice of group sharing. Council is a powerful method of connecting a group, of getting to know each other, and of truly listening. Council is always held in a circle.

There are four basic intentions that make the space of a Council circle more safe and able to bring forth truth and trust within a group (plus one additional):

  1. Listening from the Heart means really listening, not judging what is being said, looking to the future or using the mind to analyze and assess. It implies being fully present with another person, to hear what is true for them, and to try to understand and see that person through their words or silence. It requires using the heart to hear, rather than just the ears.

  2. Speaking from the Heart is speaking what is true for someone in that moment. It is to really see what is alive in the heart, being present, and then offering it to the group as a personal truth. It can be a word, story, song, poem, or whatever comes out. Speaking from the Heart means not planning in advance what you want to say and acknowledging that silence can be just as powerful a statement as words.

  3. Leanness of Expression is being succinct, clear and to the point. The intention is to get to the essence of what wishes to be expressed and shared. It does not mean to “hurry up”, but to say what is there, and not be repetitive. This aspect of Council is intended so that everyone in the circle has a chance to share, and so that the most important things can be spoken, clearly and directly. It also helps to keep the listener's attention.

  4. Spontaneity reinforces the idea of not planning what one is going to say. It creates freedom not to fall into old patterns of thinking and speaking and allows for intuitive changes in what is being shared. There is no need to follow ‘normal’ conversation patterns and allows for the call of the moment to be followed.

  5. Confidentiality. While not one of the four intentions held during Council, confidentially is asked for the space outside of the Circle. This creates a deeper sense of trust and respect for what is spoken in the Circle.

This activity provides the opportunity to experience Council, to listen and speak from the heart or to be a silent part of it (

Activity Type

Group / Experiential


Usually 1-2 hours

Learning Outcomes

  • To understand and experience first-hand the power of listening and speaking from the heart, in a held and safe space.


Required Materials and Tools:

  • A talking piece: a stick, stone, or other natural object which is easy to hold. It can be an object of personal significance as well. During Council, only the person who holds the talking piece should speak. The talking piece represents a sign of respect for each individual’s truth to be expressed in the group.

  • Comfortable sitting positions: cushions, mats or chairs to be used to make the circle.

  • A center piece if desired: flowers, a candle or something to beautify the space and create a sense of solemnity, calm and focus.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Set up the space. It should be comfortable, quiet, and private.

  2. Gather the group: people should sit in a circle, so that each person can see all the other people in the circle easily from where they sit.

  3. Open the space:

    1. The Council holder introduces the intentions of Council, the talking piece, and makes sure that everyone understands and answers any questions.

    2. Council is very broad and inclusive: the theme or topic of sharing can include a specific issue that needs to spoken about, or more general, where people can share what they are thinking or feeling in a given moment. For the general Council circle, one idea is to invite people to speak about the high and low points of their day/week, something else important that they are thinking about or feeling, or to just check if their is anything that might immediately need to be shared. If there is a specific topic or theme that the Council should focus on, make sure to explain it clearly.

    3. Decide how much time each person has to speak and agree on how to let people know their time is running out. A soft chime or bell is often used.

    4. Place the talking piece in the middle of the circle and invite everyone to check and see if anyone wishes to start. You can offer this idea to the group: a good way to know if you are ready to speak first is if your heart is beating hard or fast.

  4. The first person who feels they want to speak walks to the middle and takes the talking piece back to their place. The person then shares keeping in mind the Council intentions (see above). Once finished, they choose a direction to pass the talking stick in, and it stays this way until it makes a full completion round of the circle.

  5. The next person is advised to hold the piece for a moment to see if anything is ready to be shared. If nothing comes, they are welcome to sit in silence until they are ready to pass the piece on: there is no requirement to speak. In this way, each person in the circle receives the talking piece and is given the chance to share. After the talking piece completes the circle, the final person should return the talking piece to the middle.

  6. If there is still time for the group, consider opening the space for people to share a second time, or for others who did not speak the first time around.

  7. Once everything that is needed has been said, or the available time has elapsed, close the space, making sure to give thanks to all participants, and adding any appropriate final words.



  • Was this a useful experience for most of the group?

  • Did  it feel difficult or awkward?

  • Did the Council allow people in the group to feel more connected?

  • What things might be changed in the future Councils?

  • Were there any conflicts or issues that were resolved just by holding the space of Council?

  • Does the group seem interested in holding more councils?

Instructions for Submission

Upload a picture of the council group with someone holding the talking piece, this should not be done during the council itself and permission should be obtained from anyone whose face appears in the picture. Submit a brief, at least 200 word description of the Council and how it was for the group. Instructions on how to upload photos and how to submit things in Moodle can be found here: Instructions on Submission&Uploading

Instructions for Assessment

Provide feedback to at least one participant that has done this activity. Instructions on providing feedback can be found here: Instructions on Feedback

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