by Joshua Pawis-Steckley

Originally posted on

Often misunderstood, these centres offer vital cultural and spiritual connections


In the mid-to late 1990s, Patti Pettigrew, of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation, spent a year on the West Coast attending healing circles. She was then working as a counsellor at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre in Vancouver, and women had started disappearing at an alarming rate. In her 40s at the time, Pettigrew was dealing, on a personal level, with some of the very issues she was trying to help her clients address – addiction included. “The things that happened when I was in the circle are very, very private,” Pettigrew relates today. “But I will say that at a very, very deep level, I experienced my healing.”

These circles are safe havens, where people can bring their trauma and hurt, and learn from Elders. Often led by a facilitator, healing circles are intended to realign a person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual elements. It’s the spiritual piece that sets them apart from most other group treatments—it creates a powerful connection to culture and identity that has often been missing for participants.