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Indigenous Learnings: The Medicine Wheel

October 1, 2019

Indigenous women are dramatically over-represented within Canada’s criminal justice system and there is little public awareness on the complex and dynamic factors underlying their criminalization. The teachings of the Medicine Wheel have been used by Indigenous people for centuries as a guiding tool for learning and healing. The four directions of the Medicine Wheel represent an individual’s mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Contained within the wheel, the circle symbolises how health is holistic and cyclical, with each factor influencing one another.

The Medicine Wheel as a holistic health model recognizes the unique circumstances that incarcerated women face and the interconnectedness of these detriments as they impact successful reintegration back into society. Engagement with the Medicine Wheel teachings also encourages women to reconnect with their culture and contributes to their understanding of themselves.

The process of the Medicine Wheel begins as a collaborative conversation where individuals assess the four components of their wellbeing by rating their level of achievement on a scale from 5 to 1, ranging from “Struggling, Ready to Learn, Learning, Practicing to Achieving.” Individuals strive to reach the inner part of the wheel in each quadrant to achieve an ideal level of success. In addition, achieving balance in all four areas of the Medicine Wheel contributes to personal balance in all areas of one’s life. Balance is an ongoing process through life.

The Medicine Wheel breaks down the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual domains by asking individuals to evaluate the strength of their personal relationships, their ability to cope with past trauma, the stability of their living situation, their ability to follow-through with appointments and health check-ups, and their sense of purpose and confidence and connection to their culture, etc.

The use of the Medicine Wheel supports women in identifying the key areas where they want to put a focus on toward healing. EFry Case Managers assist each woman in developing a comprehensive individualized plan that facilitates their personal healing and provides an approach to providing resources and programs.

The Medicine Wheel serves as a cycle of awareness that provides women with direction and knowledge through their recovery. It encourages women to be self-reliant in their self-healing journey as personal experience is central to the goals and objectives that women will set for themselves. As a circular symbol, the Medicine Wheel seeks to break cycles of violence and abuse by tackling each domain of holistic health in order to achieve balance.


Indigenous Learning: Beading

June 17, 2019

Beading on the Path to Healing

Written: by Wes Lafortune

Elizabeth Fry’s Indigenous Program Coordinator, Barbara Smith gently cups a tiny beaded moccasin in her hands adorned with wolf willow seeds. It conjures up memories of her own childhood on the Piikani Nation where her grandmother first introduced her to beading at the age of nine.

Barbara later relocated to Calgary but spent many hours on the Nation with her grandmother where she learned more about their culture.

“All I knew is that I loved this woman,“ recalls Barbara.

Her respect and admiration of her grandmother’s beading piqued her own interest in learning the craft. She apprenticed the skill by learning basic stitches until she established her own unique signature beading style.

That introduction to traditional beading has led Barbara on a long journey of learning and becoming an accomplished and well known skilled beader in her community. Many dancers are wearing Barbara’s work on their regalia on the powwow scene.

Barbara eventually brought her skill to the offices of Elizabeth Fry Society in Calgary where for the past five years she has shared her wisdom and taught hundreds of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women alike how to bead and create cultural crafts including pouches, necklaces and moccasins. The women not only learn how to bead, but learn the history behind the craft and gain cultural pride as they master their own personal skill.

“It can be entrepreneurial,” says Barbara referring to the finished pieces which

are highly prized and valued in both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community. Yet what is obvious when listening to this proud Piikani woman talk about this tradition is not about commerce, but the healing that occurs when women, many who have experienced significant trauma in their lives, join this group and and find a place of acceptance.

“They build a safe place,” she says. “It’s our community.”