Subject: The following is a suggested outline of content presentation for non-aboriginal or aboriginal students based on the information present in the attached manual. Please adapt it so that it works for the students you are presenting the information to. You may like to partner with teachers in any of the following subjects as there is potential for overlap into many different subjects, for example: Science, Biology, Language Arts, Social Studies, Health, Geography, History and Native Studies
Topic: Balance in life, the Medicine Wheel
Time Frame: 60 minutes
Objectives: The students will learn that everything is interconnected and interdependent. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The students will understand the importance of balance in their lives and in the environment.
- Handouts and templates provided
- Stories provided
Space Requirements: Classroom and other areas where students can break into small groups.
Background Information: Balance is very important. A medicine wheel is a very good example of how balance is necessary in life. See also “Creating Balance Manual” and “Stories” which are at the end of this lesson.
- Ask the students if they know what a medicine wheel is and how it works. Fill in the gaps in their knowledge using the information found in the attached handouts.
- Construct a medicine wheel on the board showing the four components required in order for the earth to keep going.
- Test the student’s knowledge of how a medicine wheel works. Give them a template with a blank medicine wheel (or place the template on an overhead) and have them fill in skates, stick, puck and net into the four quadrants of the wheel. Brainstorm what these four items have in common to place in the center circle. (Hockey is the answer). Ask the students if the sport would exist if one of the items were not part of the game.
- OPTIONAL - Have the students use a second template to do the same process with a sport or another theme you give them. Share the created medicine wheels as a class. Be sure to discuss if each of the wheels would be complete if one part was not present.
- Many parts of a medicine wheel are interconnected. Have the students break the original medicine wheel with air, water, fire and land down into 4 medicine wheels, one wheel for each component. See template provided. Note that each wheel can have the same 4 components (community, individual/home, culture, nature).
- Focus specifically on the water wheel. Within each component ask the students what is water’s use? For example: What are the uses of water in the community? What are the uses of water in our homes? Have the students record answers on their handouts.
- Attempt to have the students see how the wheel is interconnected by asking questions such as: Trees need water to live; how are the other parts of the wheel dependent on trees? (to heat homes, build homes, logging industry helps support communities, carving is part of culture, etc.) Organisms need water to live, they breathe out carbon dioxide as a waste product; how are the other parts of the wheel dependent on carbon dioxide? (Trees need CO2 and water to complete the process of photosynthesis, photosynthesis creates oxygen and food for organisms) Hopefully the students will be able to see that everything within the system depends on water and none of the activities listed during this questioning will be able to occur without water.
- Determine the uses of Air, Land and Fire (energy) in the same format as was done for water. Ask the students to create three statements proving how the wheel is interconnected.
- There are two stories included that illustrate the importance of balance in all areas of life. They not only speak of balancing in our own personal lives, but also the balance of the environment. Stories can be discussed as a class or if available, an elder from the community could share his/her knowledge and insight upon reading the stories.
Creating Balance Manual
“All of life is a sacred medicine wheel. The old songs, the old teachings and the old ways are all lessons for us; lessons that point us in the right direction. If we follow that sacred path the medicine wheel will always turn inside of us.” - Glen John/Navajo Medicine Man/Arizona, 1989.
“The teachings of our grandfathers are everywhere around us, but it is up to each of us to seek out that knowledge” - Harry Yazzie/Navajo/New Mexico, 1989.
First Nations Viewpoint
First Nations people have often used medicine wheel teachings to explain worldviews. These worldviews often guide lessons. In First Nation philosophy or viewpoints, all things are animate (living) and are in constant motion (Little Bear, 2000). Although this philosophy is referring to the Plains Indians, there may be similarities among other North American First Nations. (According to the Plains Indian teachings, animate is referring that everything has a life to it.) Since everything has life, we are all interconnected. We need everything in order to survive. For example, as human beings we need air, fire, water and the land in order to live. Without any of these necessities, we cannot survive. All four of these components are required in order for the earth to keep going (that includes us as living beings!).
What is a Medicine Wheel?
The term medicine, as it is used in the term medicine wheel, often refers to either, healing, a teaching, enlightening or educating (Coggins, 1990). A medicine wheel is an ancient symbol that is used to help people understand concepts or ideas, which often cannot be seen physically. Any fact, object, person or idea can be a medicine wheel (Coggins, 1990).
A medicine wheel is often used to expand our ideas on an important lesson, which often will carry a message for us. A medicine wheel is a circle which is comprised of four major pie-shaped sections formed using equidistant points connected by two perpendicular lines crossing in the middle of the circle. It looks like this:
In using a Medicine Wheel teaching, one will often conclude that the individual needs to create balance. Think of driving a car. You can’t just start your automobile, point it in the direction you want to go and take off. Rather, you need to make constant small adjustments with the steering wheel, give it more gas when you go up a hill, brake when you reach a stop sign and so forth. Our lives are very similar to an automobile. We are made up of a physical, spiritual, mental and emotional self. We need to learn to take care and learn to balance our lives. When you begin to understand why it is important to balance our lives (or your four ‘selves‘), you will better able yourself to understand, move and grow in a positive direction.
The Story of the Peach Tree
There existed at one time, long ago, a big beautiful peach tree. This peach tree lived in a wide grassy canyon near a deep clear river. One day a young boy discovered Peach Tree and picked and ate one of the peaches. The young boy exclaimed out loud, “What a delicious peach and what a beautiful tree!”
Soon everyone in the village was making trips to pick peaches. Peach Tree was very happy. All summer she gave her peaches away to the people. When fall arrived, however, all the peaches were gone. The people of the village stopped coming to see peach tree and this made Peach Tree very sad.
All summer, she had heard people talk beneath her, picking and eating her peaches and saying how much they loved her, but now no one came around. The people were busy with other things. They were hunting elk, gathering wood and drying squash for the winter ahead.
All fall and winter Peach Tree stood alone with no more than an occasional visitor. Finally spring arrived and Peach Tree burst into beautiful dark pink blossoms. Her perfume filled the air and young girls from the village came to smell her flowers and share secrets beneath her shady branches. It was then that Peach Tree decided she would not stop giving away, not even when fall and winter arrived.
As summer came and went, Peach Tree kept producing peaches. She was happy to be giving away to the people. Every day, the villagers would visit her and go home with many peaches. As Peach Tree wanted all the people to love her and be near her, she spent all her time making peaches. She did nothing but make peaches. Peach Tree never wanted the people to leave her alone again, so she worked night and day to make and give away as many peaches as she possibly could.
One day in late summer, River said, “Peach Tree, you must take water or you will die.”
Peach Tree replied, “I need no water. I am fine. If I stop to take water, I will have to quit making and giving away peaches. If I do that the people will leave. Maybe later I will take water.”
After River spoke, Mother Earth talked to Peach Tree. “Peach Tree, you have taken no food from the soil. If you take no food, you will die.”
Again Peach Tree replied, “I am fine. I am too busy making peaches to stop and take food from the soil. If I do that, I will have to stop making peaches and if that happens, the people will leave.”
Peach Tree went on through the fall making peaches. Every day, people would visit her and they would be amazed at all the peaches she was producing.
As winter approached, Wind came to speak to Peach Tree. “Peach Tree, you need to sleep now. If you try to stay awake all winter, you will freeze to death. Only if you sleep like the river, frogs and bears will you make it through the cold season. Look, you have not even made new buds for the spring.”
Peach Tree replied, “I am fine. I have to make peaches. If I don’t make peaches, the people will leave me alone again. I have to keep giving away.”
Finally Winterman came to the canyon. The air became very cold. Soon all the peaches froze and fell to the ground. Peach Tree’s leaves turned brown and dropped. When the people from the village saw what had happened, they stopped visiting the tree. Soon the dead peaches turned brown and even the birds did not come. Now Peach Tree was all-alone. She had many dead and frost-blistered branches. Winter was well underway and Peach Tree was freezing to death.
One day in early spring, a small bird landed on Peach Tree. The bird could hear Peach Tree singing her death song. Immediately the bird flew away to the village. The bird told the people that Peach Tree was singing her death song.
Since the people loved Peach Tree, they came out once more to the river where she lived. The people made a circle around Peach Tree and began to sing a song. As they sang the healing song, Peach Tree could feel life flowing back into her branches. Soon all the branches had tight little buds on them. Peach Tree could feel the water entering into her roots. She could feel the food pouring into her from Mother Earth. It was then that Peach Tree understood that the people loved her, not just when she was giving away peaches, but also when she was blooming or sleeping or turning red in the fall.
With the love of the people, Peach Tree had returned from sickness to health. Through the love of River, Mother Earth, Wind and the people, Peach Tree learned that she must allow herself to take water, food and rest. She discovered that only through taking good care of herself would she be able to give away to others. (Coggins, 1990)
Coyote and the Three Blind Men
Coyote decided one day that he would play a trick on the three old blind men who lived near the river. Each day one of the blind men would follow the rope to the river, fill a bucket with water and return to the house. They had lived this way for many years and had become accustomed to living in their little cabin by the river.
One day Coyote said to himself, “I want to stir things up for those complacent old men.” So he went down to the river and untied the rope, took the end of the rope and tied it to a jack pine tree at the edge of a sand pit.
The next morning one of the blind men followed the rope to the river but, because of coyote's trick, the rope led the old man to the sand pit instead. When the old blind man dipped his bucket into what he thought was a river, he came up with a bucket full of sand.
“Wish-ta!” said the old man. “The river has dried up!” At that point, the old man dropped the bucket and ran back along the rope to the cabin.
Coyote laughed and laughed. He could hear the old men yelling, “What will we do?” While the old blind men yelled at each other, coyote took the rope and tied it back to the river. Just when he was done, coyote heard one of the men say “You are just lazy. You didn’t even go to the river. I will go get us water.” When the second old man got to the end of the rope, there was the river. Now he was sure the other old fellow was lying. When the second old man got back to the cabin, a real shouting match started. The old men argued all morning and coyote rolled on the forest floor laughing and holding his belly.
By the time night arrived, the old men had stopped arguing. However, no one was talking. The first old man and the second old man were angry at each other. The third old blind man didn’t talk for fear of starting another fight. Finally, the three exhausted old men went to sleep by the crackling fire in the fireplace.
Before sunrise the next day, coyote again went down to the end of the rope by the river. He untied the rope and took the loose end back to the sand pit. Again, he tied the rope to the jack pine tree. There coyote waited.
When the old blind men heard the singing of the birds, they knew it was daytime. Now since the old men took turns, this was the second man’s day to get the water. He grabbed the bucket and grumbled something to the first old man but before he got an answer, he was out of the door. Still grumbling, when he got to the end of the rope, the second old man dropped his bucket down into what he thought was the river, but to his surprise, all he heard was a ‘clang’ when the bucket hit the sand.
“Wish-ta” yelled the old man. “The river is dry!”
By now coyote was laughing so hard that tears were rolling down his cheeks. He could hear all the old men yelling and throwing things around the house. The third old man said, “you are both lazy. I’ll go get the water.” Again, coyote stopped laughing long enough to take the rope back down to the river. When the third old man got to the end of the rope, there was the river. This time, the old man getting the water was so angry he started yelling right there at the river. He yelled and he yelled. He was so loud that the other two blind men heard him back at the cabin. Because they thought something might be wrong, they followed the rope to the river. When they got there, a fight started. “I’m sick of you two. You are both lazy!” “What do you mean, lazy?” said the other two. On and on went the fight.
Suddenly one of the blind men grabbed the other two by the arms and shouted, “Listen!” Off in the forest they could hear coyote laughing.
One of the men called out to coyote. “What are you laughing at?” “I am laughing at you,” said coyote. “You all followed the rope and nobody checked to make sure the rope was going the right way. You old blind men were so sure you were on your way to the river so that when I moved the rope around, you got mad at each other. Nobody stopped to think they were being tricked. You old men have sure given me some fun. I’ll be on my way now. So long!”
And off he went, laughing as he ran away through the trees. (Coggins, 1990)
The story of coyote and the three blind men shows us the importance of having ritual, belief and ceremony that have true feeling and meaning in our lives. The story teaches us to understand how conflict and resolution are interconnected. With every conflict, there is a resolution. The story teaches us to listen to one another and also teaches us that our truth is not often the only truth. This story also teaches us to question, to search for truth and explanation. “With truth and explanation, we will be able to see the proper path to the life-giving spiritual river that flows within each one of us” (Coggins, 1990). There is no specific formula or steps that lead to self- discovery and balance through the Medicine Wheel teachings. The wheel is only to be used as a guide, an inspiration and a spiritual path that will lead to your personal discovery of your inner self.