Deeply rooted systemic oppression and prejudice has forced Indigenous communities in Canada to develop resiliency in the face of injustice. One organization that’s working towards collective healing for Indigenous communities is called Strength in the Circle.
“Strength in the Circle was built in response to the prevalence of untreated trauma in Indigenous communities that is the result of discriminative policies imposed by the Canadian government,” their website states. “Pain and suffering is what brought the founders together, but it is the shared belief in the collective healing that solidifies the unity of the movement.”
The organization was founded by Jonathan Meikle to help Indigenous men find purpose, meaning and belonging with the aim of reducing their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
The Journey That Sparked Strength in the Circle
Founder Jonathan Meikle is an Anshinew napew with Scottish and Irish bloodline and a member of Norway House Cree Nation in Treaty Five Territory of Manitoba. Meikle was exposed to the social difficulties facing Indigenous communities from a young age. He found structure as a youth by joining the Canadian Forces at 17, later deploying to Afghanistan for seven months when he was 20.
After serving in the Canadian military for six years, Meikle was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2015. On the Strength in the Circle website, he describes how due to a lack of coping skills, he turned to drugs, alcohol and violence. Recognizing he needed help, Meikle accessed residential treatment through Veterans Affairs Canada that helped him develop the tools he needed to heal from trauma.
In 2018, Meikle was stabbed on a Winnipeg bus while helping a passenger who was being threatened by another passenger. Meikle was awarded the Royal Canadian Humane Association Silver Medal of Bravery for his courage.
The experience sparked a journey of healing, love and forgiveness for Meikle, inspiring him to improve life for himself and others by launching Strength in the Circle.
Showing Support to People Who Need to It
Meikle did something most people wouldn’t do if they were in his shoes: he visited the man who stabbed him in prison and invited him to join Strength in the Circle.
“I know there’s a lot we’re going against,” he told CBC. “There’s a lot of people, institutions, ideas that don’t believe in what we’re doing. There’s a lot of people out there that believe he should be back in jail. I just want to show him my support and just be there for him to show them otherwise.”
Today, Meikle reaches out to other community members who are struggling and shares his experiences through public speaking events. He recently performed a talk at TEDxWinnipeg, called “Acknowledge the Story Behind the Label,” which explored issues of identity, labels and overcoming challenges. As a volunteer with Winnipeg’s Bear Clan Patrol, Meikle provides further support to the community through positive engagement and action.
“Where I am today in my recovery, is a product of my community being there for me when I needed help,” Meikle is quoted saying on the organization’s website.
How Strength in the Circle Helps the Community
The organization is based in Winnipeg and provides programming primarily to Indigenous men who have experienced involvement in the criminal justice system.
One of their main initiatives is a 12-month reintegration program, which connects people with positive relationships in the community, a sense of greater purpose and educational resources to create an environment conducive to healing from trauma.
“We understand the trauma that is prevalent in our communities and we understand that connection to healthier environments will provide a major component in the healing process,” their website states.
Promoting Healthy Masculinity
Other initiatives from Strength in the Circle include a Peaceful Warriors men’s group, which seeks to offer space for men to come together in hope and awareness. Part of their mission is to redefine what it means to be a man and move away from harmful stereotypes surrounding masculinity, while reinforcing a culture of healthy masculinity.
“Stop downplaying the trauma you experienced because you think it is the ‘manly’ thing to do,” a post on the organization’s Instagram profile reads.
More Initiatives That Help the Community
They also run a co-ed group that aims to restore balance, love and understanding between men and women; SevGen Awareness, which provides educational resources and discussion about the history of Indigenous communities in Canada; and a fitness crew that promotes a healthy diet and active living by providing entry level guidance into the fitness community.
The organization is asking community members to be a part of the change and join the movement. Visit strengthinthecircle.ca to learn more or get involved.
To learn more about the culture, history, traditions and art of Indigenous communities in Canada, here’s a list of resources we compiled for 2021 National Indigenous Peoples Day. You can also follow our coverage of culture and social movements.