Native American health customs

Medicine wheel that Native Americans use.

Native Americans have a deep connection to nature that is referenced in helping establish and maintain balance, health and wellness. In the Native American culture nature is referenced as “Mother Earth.” Because of the significant connection to nature, Native Americans have adopted what they observed into their customs and traditions. One example of this concept is communicated through the use of a visual shape. The shape is a circle or wheel that represents a continuum that many tribes call a “medicine wheel.”

The Native American concept of the medicine wheel symbolically represents a non-linear model of human development. Each compass direction on the wheel offers lessons and gifts that support the development of a balanced individual. The idea is to remain balanced at the center of the wheel while developing equally the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of one’s personality. The concept of the medicine wheel varies among varying Natives.

Most medicine wheels have four common colors representing each compass direction. North is white symbolizing winter and elders, east is yellow symbolizing first light, spring, and birth, south is red symbolizing summer and youth, and west is black symbolizing autumn and adulthood. The wheels vary based on how each of the tribes describes or references the different gifts to positions on the wheel. In summary, the medicine wheel is a symbolic means to support physical, social-emotional and spiritual health and wellbeing balance across the lifespan.

Michigan State University Extension has a variety of health related programming that can assist with managing your health. Michigan has 12 federally recognized tribes that anyone can research to gain a better understanding of their traditions and customs related to health. Listed are specific areas in Michigan along with their website.

Upper Peninsula:

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians

Hannahville Indian Community

Bay Mills Indian Community

Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

Lower Peninsula:

Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians

Little River Band of Ottawa Indians

Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians

Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Potawatomi Indians of Michigan (Gun Lake)

Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians

Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe

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