The Medicine Wheel has many different meanings. However, one thing remains constant – its shape. The reason it can have so many meanings is based on its perfect, never-ending circle. It embodies the circle of life, or a cycle, or the seasons. Phillene, who is originally from Lame Deer, Mont., said the medicine wheel could represent a mixture of cultures. For example, the misconception that the Native American holistic approach to recovery is just for Indians is not so. “The color red represents Native Americans, yellow for Asians, black for African Americans, and white for Caucasians,” she pointed out.

At New Day, about half the people who take part in the holistic approach to recovery are non-Native Americans.

The Medicine Wheel also symbolizes the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky,
Mother Earth, and Spirit Tree – all of which represent dimensions of health and the cycles of life.

Phillene also likes to equate the Medicine Wheel to the four seasons and their similarities to addiction recovery. Phillene said Spring represents the first step in recovery when a person quits drinking or abusing drugs, in the Summer positive things start to happen, in the Fall “we reconnect with our community and family and the Winter is where we apply everything we’ve learned. And, the next year, the four seasons start all over again,” she said.

It’s the circle of life.
It’s the circle of recovery

A large medicine wheel exists in the Bighorn
National Forest in Wyoming, just a couple dozen
miles from the Montana border. The Crow Tribe
and other Native peoples use it for religious

A story from the Crow Indians, and one very
similar to other Native American tribes, involves
Burnt Face, a young man whose face became
disfigured when he fell in a fire. Embarrassed
about his scars, he left the tribe and wandered into
the mountains on a quest. It was in the Bighorn
Mountains that he was instructed in a vision from
the Sun to build the Medicine Wheel. As the story
goes, he emerges from the mountains a handsome
man. While the Medicine Wheel is on public land,
anybody can visit it. However, only Native Americans
are allowed to enter inside the rope fence to
hold religious ceremonies.

Some experts date the wheel back 800 years.