Medicine Wheel Teachings

“The traditions give the guidance and support that is necessary for on-going healing and change. They convey a core understanding of a spiritual life. Without Spirit, and personal commitment, it is unlikely that any teaching or any strategy, from whichever direction, will help people attain and maintain balance. The Sacred Circle of the Medicine Wheel, and the Sacred Teachings, encapsulate all the spiritual wisdom required to guide the healing journey, sustain healing relationships, and promote positive change.” (Nabigon et al., 2014)

We learned in Chapter 1 that the Medicine Wheel teachings contain the values and principles for how Indigenous people are to conduct themselves in order to reach mino bimaadiziwin – the good life. We also learned that there are many versions of the Medicine Wheel teachings depending where one resides, yet the foundation concepts are similar. For example, the teachings that come from someone on the east coast of Canada will be different from someone’s teaching who lives in central Canada or from someone who lives on the west coast. The colours of the Medicine Wheel will also vary depending on the teachings and the location.

There are really seven directions associated with the Medicine Wheel – the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west) as well as the sky, the earth and the centre. For Ojibwe people, the colours are yellow (east), red (south), black (west), white (north), father sky (blue), mother earth (green) and the self (Centre, purple). The medicine wheel reminds us that everything comes in fours – the four seasons, the four stages of life, the four races of humanity, four cardinal directions, etc.

The following teachings on the Medicine Wheel by James Dumont (1993) depicts Ojibwe Anishinabe values. These are the foundational values used in the School of Indigenous Relations – Indigenous Social Work program at Laurentian University. The four symbolic races of humanity are depicted on this circle:

Medicine Wheel
Source: James Dumont (1993); “Justice and Aboriginal People”

One way to use the Medicine Wheel is as a self-assessment to determine how balanced one is. The Medicine Wheel reminds us that we need to balance all four aspects of our being – the spiritual, emotional, physical and mental aspects. When we become out of balance, we experience disease. In using the Medicine Wheel in this manner you might also explore what can be done to become re-balanced.

Finding balance among the four quadrants of the Medicine Wheel is essential for a helper. How are we able to assist a person in need if we have not used the tool of self-reflection to evaluate where we are as helpers? We must look at all aspects of our lives and the relations we have to fully understand where we are on our journey. By looking at the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual aspects of our lives, we will then be able to see where we are unbalanced and be able to develop a plan of care to find that harmony to be better helpers.

“Helpers who seek wise practices must seek their own healing. They need to be able to truly listen to their own heart before they can hear the heart of another. Training can be gained, but learning and healing is an on-going growth process. Helpers who are able to apply the lessons of the Medicine Wheel and the Seven Grandfather Teachings in their life will be able to develop wise practices in their work and learn the art of working from the heart.” (Nabigon et al., 2014)

Nabigon (2006) refers to the Medicine Wheel as the Hub. The Hub describes both positive and negative aspects of our being. The positive aspects are reflected in good feelings, relationships, respect and caring which contribute to being able to listen and heal. The negative aspects are reflected in inferior feelings, envy, resentment, and uncaring which leads one to jealousy. The negative side of the wheel are known as the rascals. We know the rascals are there and are always trying to interfere with having a good balanced life. The negative and positive aspects of life also speak to the duality in life. This duality in life is experienced as night and day, rain and sunshine, men and women, sun and moon and so on. Each and every day, individuals strive for a balanced life. This is referred to as Mino-Bimaadisiwin (the Good Life).

Other teachings of the Medicine Wheel focus on developmental stages. The analogy of the pine cone and its growth and development into a tree can be used to explain growth and development. The pine cone (infant) is represented in the east – that is, the start of life. As we progress along the circle, the pine cone develops into a sapling (child). The sapling grows into a tree (adult life) and eventually produces pine cones (later life) which then fall back to the ground to begin the process again. This same teaching can also be used explain roles and responsibilities. We know that infants and children are very vulnerable and need constant care and attention. If they are to continue to grow, they need to be nurtured. This responsibility falls to the parents/caregivers. As a result, there is a special relationship that exists between the child and the parent/caregivers. As we move around the circle, children grow into adolescents. Adolescence is a time of great emotional and physical turmoil as it is during this lime that life changes occur as they transition into adults. Turmoil also results from not being able to talk with their parents. It is a time when adolescents experience a sense of power and of ‘knowing it all.’ Often times, this will result in conflict. In these times of conflict, the relationship between the grandparent and the adolescent becomes stronger. Perhaps it is because the grandparent has more patience and can take the time to understand what is going on in the adolescent’s life, so there is a special relationship that forms between the adolescent and the grandparent.

Learning Activities

  1. Reflect on how the teachings of the Medicine Wheel and the Hub affect you personally.

  2. Reflect on the Medicine wheel teachings and write a critical summary on the teaching that was most significant to you.

  3. What did you learn about yourself? How can you use the Medicine Wheel teachings to lead a better life (Mino-bimaadiziwin)?

  4. How can you use the Medicine Wheel teachings in your personal and professional life for self care?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. Seek out teachings on the Medicine Wheel. A good place to start is your local Native Friendship Centre, Aboriginal Access Centre or a local First Nations community to find out if there Medicine Wheel teachings in your area or if any of these organizations can refer you to an Elder or traditional person. You may wish to visit in person or visit the websites of the organizations.


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