A Council Fire For Peace

By Laura Melton Tucker, October 5th, 2012

Listen to this entry.

When I was a young Camp Fire Girl our ceremonies, called “council fires,” were steeped in the peace circle tradition of Native Americans.  Native American councils use communication to transform conflict into healing.  During the council peace talk, community members are asked to “check-in, show up and be present,” with the purpose of using talk to “heal, harmonize and communicate without fear.” The imprint of this council fire tradition from my early days has held.  My work is built on the principles of council peace circles, and my mediator role often feels like “keeping the fire.”

I was honored to preside over an unusual peace talk last weekend, held in a Victorian manor overlooking the Mississippi.  This circle was different than others I’ve facilitated, for there were Hollywood lights, cameramen, and television producers. The occasion was a meeting between two mothers whose lives were connected many years ago through a terrible tragedy.  On a beautiful fall day in the 1980’s, one mother lost her daughter in a violent homicide, the other mother learned her son was the murderer.   All these years later, the mothers were invited to meet face to face for the first time on television.  The program’s intent would be to show the collateral damage left in the wake of a murder, and how those left behind must heal in order to move forward.   The producer explained to me that the show would culminate in a peace circle, led by a moderator.  My role would be to keep the conversation respectful and safe: “Please know that this is not a reality show looking for screaming matches,” explained the producer.   After some consideration and due diligence to ensure that the production company was reputable, I agreed to moderate the meeting.

But I had concerns.  I didn’t know what this TV peace circle would require. With all mediations, my focus is not on the content of the talk, rather on its process.  Like a fire keeper, I watch the metaphoric flame of the talk, using mediator tools that pour water over it when it gets too hot, or that stir it when it gets too cold.  A fire that burns under control can dissolve misunderstandings and pent up emotions.  Gathering around a fire can focus thoughts, clarify feelings, and with the warmth and light of the fire, start to heal old wounds.

A river of sadness saturated the talk of these two mothers I sat between last weekend.  As moderator, I told the producer I would keep my role to a minimum, while staying present to the women’s needs and assisting them when necessary.  Surprisingly, I had no work to do as the “fire keeper” of this peace talk.  From the moment the women greeted each other, their talk flowed without pause.  The mother of the victim asked question after question.  The mother of the offender answered everything she was asked. The victim’s mother’s questions were difficult ones, focusing on the other mother’s role in raising a son who would grow up to kill: “Did your son murder my daughter because he was raised without love?”  Other questions focused on why the offender’s mother had remained silent for so long: “Why didn’t you attend the wake?”  “Why have you never said you were sorry?”  Each mother stayed in the room.  At the end, they were out of talk.  To close the meeting, I thanked the mothers for their open hearts and open minds.  I wished them peace and continued healing.

The takeaway for me that day is that some council fires need no tending. These women held a conversation that wanted to happen.  I simply let what wanted to happen, happen.  If there had been too much anger, I would have quieted it with acknowledgement, summary, or by suggesting a break.  If there had been too little talk, I would have stirred the conversation by asking the silent person if she had questions for the other, or if there were something she wanted the other person to understand.  But this day, no tending was necessary.  I felt honored to sit and bear witness as these two women struggled to make sense out of a senseless death.  As the fire of their talk burned, strong and steady, fueled by their intense curiosity about what happened and why, I imagined their confusion, doubt, and sadness burning away, replaced by clarity, hope and a measure of peace.

Air moves us
Fire transforms us
Water shapes us
Earth heals us
And the circle of the wheel goes round and round,
And the circle of the wheel goes round…
Grant Redhawk – Blackfoot Nation

3 Responses

  • Pam Taggart says:

    I especially enjoyed hearing this entry read by you. You have a calming, soothing voice, and of course what you shared with us also held those characteristics. Thank you!

  • Vicki says:

    I can not think of a better person in this world to do as you said, “While staying present to the women’s needs and assisting them when necessary.” What a difficult role in this situation and it takes the gifts of a special person to be able to fill it. You are a very special person Laura!

  • Patty says:

    Less tragic situations in my life, would have ended quicker with you to mediate. You do have a very calming voice, and it would squelch any apparent conflict . Thankful to know you, and to see you and hear your voice after so many years. I just feel so connected to your family some how. Thank you for sharing your heart. Patty

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