Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 2, 2001 - Issue 37



Medicine Wheel Teaches Spiritual Harmony


by Patti Brandt Michigan Live

Tracy Chatfield breaks a piece off a stalk of white sage, lights it with a match and lets it waft in the air. The room soon fills with a smoky, spicy scent and all present are purified ... centered ... in harmony with life.

"I hate the idea of culture under glass," Chatfield, a program assistant with Bay City's Title IX Indian Education Program, said last week.

The ritual is called smudging, and the sage is one of the four sacred medicines of the Anishnaabeg, or first people, that were planted Saturday by about 60 students from the program.

The medicine wheel garden will grow on a small patch of land at the Historical Museum of Bay County, 321 Washington Ave., bringing the culture of area American Indians to life.

The garden is circular in shape, to represent the circular nature of life itself, and its border is ringed with fieldstone.

It is divided into four sections, each of which represents a direction and contains one of the medicine plants - tobacco faces east, cedar south, sage west and sweet grass north.

The garden, said Sandra Dezelah, program manager, is meant to show respect for the rich culture of the American Indian, but will also be used as a teaching tool, tieing in with science and history.

The medicine wheel, always divided into four quadrants, is used to help young people remember what the Elders have passed on, that much of life is in fours - the four seasons, the four races of man, the four elements and the four aspects of human nature, namely the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects.

Most American Indian teachings, Dezelah said, are passed on by word of mouth in a culture that is very much an oral one.

"A lot of the teachings are just teachings," she said. "They're not going to be found in books, and they're not going to found on the Internet. They are heard from grandparents sitting around the table or at family reunions. They're heard from the Elders while sitting in lodges."

The Historical Museum is planning a gallery of local American Indian artifacts, a gallery that is still a couple years in the future.

Gay McInerney, museum director, said she was thrilled with the idea of the medicine garden.

"We've had a long-standing working relationship with Native American people in our community," McInerney said. "The garden provides not only an opportunity for Native American people to celebrate their heritage, but also for non-natives to learn about that part of our community's history."

While the sacred plantings from the medicine wheel will be used in smudging, a ritual meant to chase away negative feelings, ward off sickness and help a person to become centered, the wheel itself can be used to meditate or pray or just think about things.

"We're taught that there is a balance to life and taught to go to the medicine wheel when you are out of balance," Dezelah said. "It makes you sit back and take stock and when you find yourself out of balance it's a way to get it back."

The sacred plants for the garden were provided by the National Resource Conservation Service in Lansing, an agency that grows much of the fauna indigenous to Michigan and will provide bedding plants on a one-time basis to all Indian Education programs.

Except for the tobacco plants, which will provide the seeds for next year's garden, the plants are perennial.

"The garden is something that's hopefully going to last forever," Dezelah said.

Dezelah and Chatfield hope the students will carry on some of their native traditions, too.

"One of our main goals," Dezelah said, "is to teach these kids what a proud, rich living culture they have. We teach them with accuracy, authenticity and sensitivity."

"It's important to their identity to know where they have come from and where they are going," Chatfield said. "They need an identity to know where they come from, why they are here. Whether they realize they are Indian or not they are going to have those effects."

Though there are 215 children in the Indian Education Program, Dezelah said they are still looking for those who are part American Indian.

"We try to teach that the kid sitting next to you in class with blonde hair and blue eyes could be part Indian, so don't judge on appearances."

Native American Three Sisters Gardens
Welcome to the garden of the Three Sisters. Who are the Three Sisters? The journey that you are about to embark on will inform you. The Three Sisters are not people at all....


The Amos Owen Garden of American Indian Horticulture
The garden started as part of a project a group of students and I did back in 1976 for a bicentennial celebration of American agriculture which was held in Lake Crystal, Minnesota in September of that year. It had occurred to us that the contributions of American Indians to agriculture were probably going to be overlooked. We visited the directors who fully confirmed our belief.




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