“Water finds significance in the lives of First Nations people on personal, community, clan, national, and spiritual levels. Water is understood as a living force which must be protected and nurtured; it is not a commodity to be bought and sold.” - Unknown
All around Turtle Island (North America), the Medicine Wheel has been used as a teaching tool for many Indigenous Nations. Medicine Wheels consist of many different aspects that connect humans and all living things to the Earth.
The Medicine Wheel was placed on Turtle Island by people thousands of years ago. For many Nations, the Medicine Wheel is one of the oldest things we have. The four directions are incorporated to honour them and to seek knowledge from them. We get power from those four directions. They pull positive aspects into our lives. When we call out to them in prayer, they will bring good things to us. The four directions came with creation. We didn’t. We were the last thing created. This is a garden; it’s coming from Mother Earth, so that’s where the four directions are coming from. (Medicine Wheel Teachings, 2016)
The Medicine Wheel is round to represent the Circle of Life. Human beings, like many organisms, enter their existence dependent on others as babies, grow and discover during their youth, experience life and learn while adults, and age and pass on their knowledge as Elders.
The central cross represents how all things in the natural world come in fours. This includes the four winds, the four seasons, the four directions, the four grandfathers (teachers), and the four stages of life. The plant and animal symbols are useful to us as medicines and guardians and also act to fulfill our spiritual and personal wellbeing. The reason this object is called a “Medicine Wheel” is due to the strong spiritual healing present when all of the representative symbols are in balance and are united. The Medicine Wheel serves to remind us of our place in this world, how we each have an impact through our actions, and how we are connected in many ways to our natural world. Negative impacts would result should we change the balance of things, which eventually will be felt by all. If, however, humans care for the Earth and cherish all within it, we can create a healthy worldwide ecosystem where all can benefit. (The Anishinabek Medicine Wheel – What Does It Mean?, 2017)
Students will explore the many ways in which the four elements: fire, rocks, water and wind affect our daily lives and all the living things around us. These elements are very spiritually significant and, thus, considered to be living things to First Nations people because they are life sustaining. They are recognized in many ways, including many celebrations and ceremonies that are believed to help with the survival of their nation. These elements are considered to have spirits similar to those of humans. (Zacharias, 2016)
Lesson 1: Medicine Wheel Teachings (Inquiry Lesson)
Grades: 6-9 (Native Studies, Health, Social Studies)
Topic: Elements that represent the medicine wheel, according to different cultural tribes, in what is now North America.
Time: 60 minutes
Space requirement: Classroom, Computer Lab
Materials: *** An Elder should be brought into the classroom for an authentic learning experience. Talk to the local cultural advisor or First Nations organizations and seek one, as an Elder will be needed for this lesson, Computers and Internet Access.
Alternatively: If no Elder is available, you can use this Medicine Wheel video - Ted Talks: Dallas Arcand. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niRs_VIqzYU&list=PLZpa7q2yatSUpqGW5NIw7CoCbxwbk8w9S
Objectives: To teach students about the different ways a medicine wheel is used and viewed in different cultural tribes in North America, specifically what is now Canada and the United States. This lesson will also assist students’ understanding of the worldview through the lens of a tribe they research.
For the hook use a KWL chart to find out what students know and understand up to this point about a Medicine Wheel. This will later help with their assessment. In addition, this could help build a word wall for students to see their progress and learning and assist in learning throughout the lesson.
1. Have the Elder come in and speak on the elements of fire, rocks, water, wind and the interconnectedness of the medicine wheel to our self/wellbeing as a whole. When speaking with the Elder, be clear on what you want him to speak about and why. Some topics to consider (all can be covered depending on the grade level; the teacher can gauge the level of difficulty).
a. How are the four elements connected to human beings?
b. Why are the four elements important to life?
c. How is water the foundation of life and why is it important to the First Nation People?
d. How can students incorporate the medicine wheel into their daily lives?
e. Can anyone use the medicine wheel and adapt it into their life/lifestyle?
f. What other tribes use the medicine wheel in Canada?
g. What are the different medicine wheels and how do they differ?
Having an Elder visit the classroom to authenticate your learning is an important element of the lesson. It is recommended that you seek an Elder to speak about this.
***Ensure that protocol is followed. Offer tobacco to the Elder and/or a honourarium for his/her time.***
Alternatively: If no Elder is available, an online video can be used to answer as much of the questions a-g as possible. This will lead students into their research paper. At this stage in their learning they should be introduced to the process of taking jot notes if they do not feel comfortable doing so already (a quick mini lesson may be necessary). The video to which the link is provided will assist in their inquiry for their research project and will assist them in their learning.
2. The inquiry will be based on the many different uses/history surrounding the medicine wheel and how different cultural tribes in North America use the medicine wheel.
Criteria: This project will be a five paragraph essay that focuses on the tribe they are researching, the way that tribe views the medicine wheel, that tribe’s place of origin, that tribe’s geographical placement (by mountains/oceans/forest, etc.). Remind the students to keep sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, writing a good introduction that includes a thesis statement, writing a good conclusion, and transition words in mind when they are writing their essays.
Assessment: Use the Essay Grading Rubric to assist in assessing the students’ essays.
For the Teacher:
Fire is needed for survival; it is the heart of people. It provides us with life, warmth, & protection. We all have fire within ourselves, within our families and within our communities. Fire cleanses and it renews life.
Rocks are considered to be the wisest of the four elements because of all that they have seen: floods, drought, fire. They possess a lot of knowledge and that is why they are used in sweat lodges. Stones that have spirits within them are very heavy and cannot be broken by humans. When the spirit has left, the rock becomes light and easy to break apart.
Water is one of the four elements in the medicine wheel. It provides life for all living things. It is life‐giving and life‐sustaining. Water is, therefore, an important part of many ceremonies such as sweat lodges
Wind - The wind is here to protect us. Things that are not good are blown away. It is important to our lives and needs to be recognized as our protector. The wind also helps keep the soil clean by blowing the used topsoil away for new soil to grow.
Resources used in the lesson
Arcand, Dallas. (2014). TEDx Talks. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niRs_VIqzYU&list=PLZpa7q2yatSUpqGW5NIw7CoCbxwbk8w9S