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Indigenous Education

Finding Strength in Community

December 10, 2020

RRC student launches Strength in the Circle, a grassroots movement focused on Indigenous men’s healing

Jonathan Meikle is no stranger to making headlines. Two years ago, the army veteran stepped in when he saw an altercation break out on a Winnipeg Transit bus. Meikle was stabbed in the process of protecting other passengers. Instead of harboring anger towards the attacker, it made him curious. Who was this person and what led him to this point of violence?

Meikle reached out and realized this person was part of a cycle that is all too common – one that mirrored his own cyclical experiences with sobriety and the criminal justice system. He was already on a transformative journey of discovering his culture and spirituality, but he knew there was something more he could contribute to his community. It started with helping the man on the bus, who became his friend: supporting him while he was incarcerated, through to securing housing and creating a support system. As the veil was being lifted in his own life to the systemic problems he was facing, Meikle saw a movement that was emerging and deeply needed: healing for Indigenous men.

Meikle is a student in Red River College’s Social Innovation and Community Development program in the School of Indigenous Education but is already putting his entrepreneurial vision into action by launching a grassroots organization called Strength in the Circle focused on collective healing. Along with his RRC studies, he has been spending time during the pandemic working on his organization, taking victim defender mediation training and being in a peer support program.

“Strength in the Circle is a movement built in response to the prevalence of untreated trauma that is the result of discriminative policy imposed by the Canadian government. Our mission is to provide programming primarily, however not exclusively, to Indigenous men that have had involvement in the criminal justice system,” says Meikle.

Strength in the Circle is currently comprised of four key initiatives that correlate to the Medicine Wheel teachings, an acknowledgement on how important it is to have the mind, body, spirit and heart work together in balance.

Over the summer they started an Indigenous literature reading group (mental), a fitness group (physical), and Peaceful Warriors co-ed and men’s group (emotional), with spiritually weaved throughout all initiatives. Meikle says he and his team strive towards having a truly Indigenous organization and they are constantly asking and re-evaluating what that means.

Of his own journey, he says, “I was always so focused on the psychical and the mental but not so much on the emotional and the spiritual. I was spiritually disconnected. I wasn’t in touch with my culture, I actually rejected it. I was very shame based.”

Although he is now empowering others, his path wasn’t always to clear. Being in the military for six years and deployed to Afghanistan was a culture shock and took a toll on his mental health. It was a process, but making connections in the volunteering community and building up his own support network helped him focus on his future and sobriety.

When he was deciding on a new career path, he found himself at a crossroads. He could choose a linear path in aviation, or a more passionate, yet unclear one, based in social change. He knew he wanted to develop something that would make a real difference in the lives of Indigenous people, so he enrolled in the Social Innovation and Community Development program.

The two-year program brings new perspectives to existing ways of decision-making in today’s world. Students discover the tremendous capacities of communities and individuals looking to initiate systems change. Meikle says the program has developed his facilitation and development skills, furthered his network and connections, added to his confidence, and helped him build long-lasting friendships.

“So many people don’t see [the big picture] and it builds into this self-fulfilling prophecy that we are not good enough and this idea of this inferiority and this idea of this superiority of others, and I want to confront that. Everything we are trying to build with Strength in the Circle is aimed at individuals being able to find that leader in themselves.”

Strength in the Circle is currently developing their next initiative, Truth Speakers, around communication and leadership skills through an Indigenous world view.

“Some of the greatest social innovators and some of the greatest change makers, are still out there yet to be discovered, they are just weighed down by barriers.”

Learn more about Strength in the Circle.

Find out more about the Social Innovation and Community Development program.