Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheel – The term was first applied to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel monument and sacred site on Medicine Mountain, part of northern yoming’s Big Horn Range. The wheel consists of an 80-foot-diameter circular arrangement of stones, with 28 rows of circles around the wheel’s periphery. It is thought to have been built around 200 years ago by Native Americans, with the 28 spokes symbolizing the days of a lunar month. As a more general concept, the medicine wheel has come to refer to a set of Native American teachings based around the construction of a hoop with four quarters and/or six cardinal directions representing creation and (human and other-than-human) people’s relation to it. The precise correspondences vary from tribe to tribe and the medicine wheel has become an important symbol of pan-Indian identity.

Sun Bear (Vincent LaDuke), allegedly of Ojibwe and EuroAmerican descent, who founded the Bear Tribe Medicine Society, had visions directing him to share the teachings of the medicine wheel with Natives and, controversially, non-Natives. At medicine wheel gatherings, participants can undertake sweat lodges, pipe rituals, and crystal healing ceremonies, all themes from Plains Indian and Ojibwe traditions adapted by Sun Bear and fused with environmentalism and New Age self-help and therapeutic themes to form the “medicine wheel teachings.” Sun Bear’s teachings have inspired countless people and provided them with empowering methods for living their lives in a “sacred manner,” but Métis teachers like Sun Bear have been ostracized and criticized by Native American activists (especially among the American Indian Movement) who question his ancestry and the authenticity of his teachings and have physically disrupted his workshops. Alice Kehoe traces the idea of the medicine wheel to what was originally “a minor item in Cheyenne life, little wooden hoops used primarily in a game of skill” (1990, 200). Vine Deloria Jr. identifies Kehoe and other contributors to James Clifton’s Invented Indian (1990) as neocolonial arbiters over what is and what is not “tradition,” especially given their consensus that current perceptions of Indianness are invented and therefore not traditional. Similarly, Ward Churchill labels this “new racism.”


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007