Learning about the medicine wheel is an important step towards learning about the role of medicines in smudging and prayer, and in our everyday lives and activities. Mashkiki is the basis of our spiritual health and well-being: we learn that each direction of the medicine wheel holds teachings and knowledge about the four sacred medicines, which guide us to respect and honor our ancestors who themselves passed those teachings and responsibilities down to us.
Medicine Pouch Making Program
I was taught that medicine pouches are meant to be sacred to our spiritual journeys. It is taught that when you are in the process of making a medicine pouch you should be in prayer and put within that pouch the intention of your prayer. The four medicines can serve as a protection prayer when battling mental health issues or the negative effects of addiction, as well as a prayer for good intentions or when embarking on a new journey in life. My teachings come from a Dene elder and some aspects may differ from the ceremonial use of pouches for rites of passage or lodge ceremonies.
My intention with this program was to ground those who want to learn in an understanding of the medicine wheel and of why the four directions are important in our overall health as Ojibwe peoples. The teachings about Sweetgrass, Tobacco, Sage and Cedar are essential when we want to carry or create a medicine pouch: we must first learn why these medicines are sacred to our nations and then respect their use and power in prayer. A typical class begins with my introducing myself with my traditional given name; I then discuss my clan and my responsibilities surrounding the teaching as it was passed down by the elders before me.
I then move on to the teachings of the medicine wheel and the four directions and their connections to all living things, the medicines in each direction and their uses. We leave an opportunity for conversation surrounding each participant’s experiences with the medicines and the teachings they have received, as well as conversation about their clan and connections to their tribal teachings as these may differ across Manitoban communities. No single teaching is right or wrong: all are considered equal and unique to an individual’s journey within their own culture. This is a great chance to learn more about other tribal teachings and share stories about other tribal histories. We can all learn something from one another by learning about each person’s journey with Mashkiki.
I then go into facilitated teachings that our communities had worked closely together to build and gather in preparation for ceremony and the individual seasons before the influence of settlers. One of the ways we work together is through the sharing of responsibility: each participant is assigned a task which advances the overall goal of the group in making medicine pouches. For example, one person is assigned to cut strips of leather for necklaces, one is given the task of measuring and cutting pouches, one is tasked with preparing each of the four medicines, and another is asked to split the sinew. There is much storytelling and laughter that happens during these tasks: everyone belongs, and everyone is equally important. No single role is more important than any other, creating a sense of safety and inclusion which in turn fosters an environment in which each person can shine their own light.
Once the final stages of the medicines are prepared, we then pray and connect to the Mashkiki with our intention for our individual medicine pouches. We think kind thoughts, we think of areas in our lives for we may ask for help, and we connect with ourselves and ask the medicine to assist us in our journey. During this time, the group is calmer and quieter, as this is a moment for deep reflection.
Once we have finished the process of packing and sewing our pouches, we each have a role to play in tidying up and gathering the reusable components (sinew, leather, and medicines). We must not be wasteful and reuse whenever possible: the importance of preserving valuable materials and finding other uses for them is another teaching that I share during my facilitation.
The final steps of my teaching concern the proper wearing of the medicine pouch. We can gift the pouch we have created to someone who might need its support, or we can keep it for ourselves. The medicine pouch must be worn underneath one’s clothing and outside when in ceremonial lodges. There is also the teaching that only you are to touch the medicine pouch since it holds one’s personal intentions and is therefore sacred in virtue of the prayer infused into the medicine. When gifting a pouch, it is important to share the intention of the pouch with the recipient.
Finally, we light up the four medicines and smudge the pouches in prayer. The smoke billows and surrounds the pouch with cleansing properties. The smoke carries our prayers upwards to the Creator and our medicine pouches are then complete. We tie them and carry them close to our hearts as we carry on with our day. As we walk into the world which can sometimes leave us feeling separated or disconnected from our spiritual identities, the medicine pouch is there to ground us, protect us, and guide us back to our most sacred connection to the Creator.
Indigenous Cultural Safety Leader (STMMCM)