The Medicine Wheel: Learning with an Indigenous Perspective  

In this lesson students explore the rich symbolism and teachings which are part of the Medicine Wheel.

Created by Gloria Johnson

May 23, 2013

Lesson Overview

In this lesson students explore the rich symbolism and teachings which are part of the Medicine Wheel. They share their learning experiences in talking/sharing circle and create their own Medicine Wheel as a final project.

Time Required

3 – 5 classes  

Historical Thinking Concept(s)

This lesson plan uses the following historical thinking concepts: use primary source evidence and take historical perspectives.

 

Learning Outcomes

Student will:

  • develop an awareness, understanding and respect for indigenous spirituality and perspective through the use of the Talking Circle and Medicine Wheel
  • explore and appreciate the significance of the Medicine Wheel to indigenous peoples
  • appreciate the role of spiritualty in indigenous culture
  • construct a Medicine Wheel

Background Information

The Medicine Wheel emphasizes a holistic approach to maintain balance and equilibrium in life. The Medicine Wheel is a circular symbol representing the wholeness of traditional indigenous life. It is a perfectly balanced shape without a top or bottom, length or width. It represents constant movement and change. The Medicine Wheel represents not only spirituality, it also symbolizes reason, emotion and the physical aspect of peoples’ beliefs, their knowledge, their feelings and actions which are intimately related and inseparably connected. The ultimate goal is to strike a harmonious balance in life. Everything in the Universe is part of a single whole.

The Lesson Activity

Activating:

  • Introduce the Medicine Wheel and associated concepts choosing from the resources provided or others you may have access to.
  • Share students learning experience through journal writing and sharing circle/talking circle.

Acquiring:

  • Choose a video from those listed and have students complete activities in the Teacher’s Guide.

Or 

  • Read passages from Maliseet and Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes, and do exercises after each reading assignment:
    • Introduction, pp. xvi-xvii
    • Oral History, pp. 18-24, exercise on p. 25
  • Language and the Circle: Words Received and Words Given, pp. 33-34, exercise on p. 34
  • Space and Time: Thinking about Land, pp. 52-54, exercise on p. 56
  • Finding a Place in the World, pp. 67-71, exercise on p. 71
  • Discuss and share after viewing video. Keep journal of responses and dialogue. Do activities in the Teacher’s guide.
  • Share students learning experience through journal writing and sharing circle/talking circle

Applying:

  • Have students develop their own Medicine Wheel based on what was taught, shared and learned.
  • Brainstorm ideas that, by using symbols, can represent various aspects of peoples’ cultural identity and the meaning of life and survival.
  • You may want to invite local Elders to the classroom to share their expertise and knowledge pertaining to the Medicine Wheel.

Materials/Resources

  • Pen, paper, coloured pencils, or markers

Articles: Seven Sacred Prayers of the First Nation as People

  • The Sweat Lodge
  • The Creation Story by Stephen Augustine, Grand Council Captain, Big Cove, NB
  • The Sacred Circle Philosophy by Black Elk
  • 12 Principles of Indian Philosophy
  • Traditional Indian Code of Ethics, Source Four Worlds Development Project, University of Lethbridge, Alberta, 1992
  • The Dream of the White Robe and the Floating Island by Ella E. Clark, Indian Legends of Canada, McClelland & Stewart Inc., The Canadian Publishers
  • Talking to my Granddaughter by Henry Lickers

Video:

  • Standing Alone, First Nations the Circle Unbroken, Produced by Face to Face Media and the National Film Board of Canada (1982) 19 min. 57 sec. Do exercises on p. 16 of Teacher’s Guide.
  • Cree Hunters, Quebec Dams, First Nations the Circle Unbroken, Produced by Face to Face Media and the National Film Board of Canada (1994) 23 min. 21 sec. Do exercises on pgs. 13-14 Teacher's Guide.
  • Where the Spirit Lives, A drama broadcast on CBC-TV about the experiences of a young person in a residential school. Atlantic films 1991. Available for purchase from Magic Lantern Communication. Phone 1-800-263-1717.

 Audio:

  • Voices from the Eastern Door, cassette

References

Leavitt, Robert M, Maliseet and Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes. Text. New Ireland Press, Fredericton, NB, 1996.

First Nations: the Circle Unbroken, Teacher’s Guide. This production contains a series of thirteen 20 minute programs about current issues, cultural identity, and relations between First Nations and Canada. Produced by Face to Face Media and the National Film Board of Canada, 1974.

Bopp, Judie, et al. The Sacred Tree. Lethbridge, Alberta, Four Worlds Development Press, University of Lethbridge, 1984.

Armstrong, T, Multiple Intelligence in the Classroom. Alexander, VA, ASCD, 1994.

Assessment:

  • Daily journal
  • Participation in talking/sharing circle
  • Medicine Wheel design and construction

It is important to display the students’ work in a prominent location. This helps to promote self-esteem, dignity and pride, and allows others to share in their success and achievement. The students’ Medicine Wheels can be displayed in the school library or at a school open house.  

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