Author Topic: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas  (Read 47866 times)

Offline educatedindian

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Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« on: May 01, 2007, 02:29:02 am »
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Andrea Bear Nicholas
Chair in Native Studies
St. Thomas University
Fredericton, NB, Canada
April 24, 2007

To Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy Peoples of the Maritimes:

It has been repeatedly brought to my attention how completely our people have been fooled into believing that the medicine wheel is somehow part of our traditions, especially our spirituality. While I had long had concerns about its origins, what woke me to the hoax was an event that occurred several years ago at a national conference of Aboriginal women scholars. It occurred when I raised the concern and prefaced my remarks with an apology to those whose tradition it might have been. Immediately a chorus went up with virtually everyone in the room saying loudly that it was not their tradition! And these were Aboriginal women scholars from across Canada!

Subsequent to that meeting, we in the Native Studies Program at St. Thomas University began researching the history of the medicine wheel, and what we have found is appalling!

Indeed, it was not even known by our people in the Maritimes until the last couple of decades. It is not anywhere in the oral traditions of Maliseet, Mi'kmaq or Passamaquoddy people collected as recently as the 70s and 80s. So how in the world could it represent the knowledge of our elders, if none of them ever heard of it until recently? The answer is that it was a totally invented tradition that was foisted on our people only as recently as the 1970s.

The following is an excerpt from a paper I have written which is due to be published soon. It is titled "The Assault on Aboriginal Oral Traditions: Past & Present." I include in this paper an analysis of the assault on our languages, as the most important of our oral traditions, specifically the fact that our languages have been deliberately targeted for destruction, not only by residential schools, but also by public schools and all schools taught only in a dominant language such as English. The paper also deals with the fact that so many of the stories of our people have been both distorted and often totally invented or fabricated by non-First Nations people. It is in connection with the destruction of our languages that I discuss the matter of invented traditions, especially the medicine wheel, as follows.

[Begin quote] "It is into this void [where so many people no longer speak their languages] that invented traditions have come with a vengeance. One such "tradition", the medicine wheel, is of particular concern for it is now widely promoted as the basis of Maliseet or Mi'kmaq traditions. In fact, it was invented as recently as 1972.
(1) by a man representing himself as Cheyenne, but who was immediately exposed as a fraud.
(2) The medicine wheel is not a Maliseet or Mi'kmaq tradition, nor, it seems, was it a Cheyenne tradition. Within two decades, however, it evolved into the form it is known today, thanks to the embellishments of several others, including the discredited "plastic medicine man" known as Sun Bear, who exploited the idea for their own personal gain.
(3) The irony is that this now very non-Native invention is seen as the essence of Native traditions, not only by the dominant society but also by First Nations people, even many who style themselves as "traditionalists", in spite of the fact that the enormity of the fraud has been known at least since 1983.
(4) With the 1996 publication of a Native Studies textbook that features the medicine wheel,
(5) the concept has been foisted upon a whole generation of Maliseet and Mi'kmaq high school students who now firmly believe that this invention is an old Mi'kmaq and Maliseet tradition.

Furthermore, Native Studies teachers in New Brunswick high schools are now provided with supplementary binders and curriculum materials that are totally focused on the medicine wheel. That this philosophy has effectively and almost totally displaced the oral traditions of our people in schools, makes it impossible to conclude that it does not serve the ends of the ongoing colonial assault on the traditions of our people. That this headlong rush for an invented tradition has occurred without critical attention to its origin as a hoax is a serious indictment of academia, and particularly those institutions that have taken on the responsibility of training First Nations teachers.

(6) The sad irony is that anyone who now voices objections to the medicine wheel as tradition is generally condemned for "messing" with tradition." [End of quote]

I put these comments out knowing that they will stir up much reaction and discussion, and that they will even be considered disrespectful, to say the least! I just hope that the discussion it provokes is respectful. As an indigenous academic my duty is to seek the truth, and to speak out against untruth, particularly with regard to our history. In fact, I now realize it would be disrespectful of me to hold my tongue on this matter any longer, especially when I know that young people are being taught this hoax as some sort of truth or legitimate tradition of our peoples, even in school.

I urge people to read the following footnotes to the excerpt quoted above, and the sources they cite before weighing in on this matter.

1.) Storm, Hyemeyohst, Seven Arrows, New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.

2.) Kehoe, Alice B., "Primal Gaia: Primitivists and Plastic Medicine Men", in James B. Clifton, ed., The Invented Indian: Cultural Fictions and Government Policies, New Brunswick & London: Transaction Publishers, 1990, p. 200.

3.) Sun Bear and Wabun, The Medicine Wheel, New Jersey: Prentice-Hill, 1980. Judy Bopp, The Sacred Tree, Lethbridge, Alberta: Four Worlds Development Project, University of Lethbridge, 1988; and Lorler, Marie-Lu, Shamanic Healing within the Medicine Wheel, Albuquerque: Brotherhood of Life, 1989. For a critique of this idea and other New Age phenomena Aldred, Lisa, 2000. "Plastic Shamans and Astroturf Sun dances: New Age Commercialization of Native American Spirituality" in The American Indian Quarterly, vol. 24(3):329-352; and Jenkins, Philip, Dream Catchers: How Mainstream America Discovered Native Spirituality. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

(4) Parkhill, Thomas, Weaving Ourselves into the Land: Charles Godfrey Leland, "Indians" and the Study of Native American Religions, Albany: State University of New York., 1997. p. 141, citing Alice Kehoe, "Primal Gaia: Primitivists and Plastic Medicine Men", p. 200-201, who in turn cites Castro, Michael, Interpreting the Indian, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982, p. 155; and Bruchac, Joseph, "Spinning the Medicine Wheel: The Bear Tribe in the Catskills", in Akwesasne Notes, 1983, vol. 15(5):20-22.

(5) Leavitt, Robert, Maliseet & Micmac: First Nations of the Maritimes, Fredericton, NB: New Ireland Press, 1995. . (6) Dorson, Richard M., Folklore and Fakelore: Essays toward a Discipline of Folk Studies, Cambridge & London, Harvard University Press, 1976, p. 119.

Andrea Bear Nicholas

Offline tachia

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2007, 05:50:05 pm »
great info! .. we have a plastic shaman we are trying to shut down .. he claims affiliation with the Aroostook band of Micmacs in Maine (they do not support him) .. the medicine wheel is the basis of his teachings and he claims that it is an ancient Micmac tradition etc .. when we first ran into this guy he was stating that he learned the medicine wheel from "sunbear" yet after being challenged about "sunbear" he is now stating that he learned from the Micmac elders ..
like Andrea Bear Nicholas, many of us had doubts about "medicine wheel" being a Micmac tradition yet our research could not prove that it was or wasn’t .. this info will definitely help! .. wado equa!
A few questions .. ..
is there any way to get in touch with Andrea through email? .. also i could not find it on, do you have the link from there? .. i would very much like to have more information on this subject, does anyone know if the Micmac traditions included sweat lodges, or is that another made up ceremony for the maritime peoples? .. .. the more info we have the better chance we have of shutting this plastic shaman down .. again wado ..

Offline debbieredbear

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #2 on: May 06, 2007, 02:38:33 am »
Years ago, a friend who thought Sun Bear was just SOOOOO wonderful, she wrote him a letter asking if Indians had anything like runes. (quit laughing! It's true!!  :P ) So here comes a letter from SB and he tells her about a book he and Wabun are writing. It's called Earth Astrology, he says. Based on the medicine wheel and astrology. NOT traditonal, he says, but based on a vision or dream he had. See, he even admitted it wasn't traditional. I just told her something like, how interesting. Because the first I had ever heard of a medicine wheel was when I wads told of the Big Horn Medicine wheel. No one ever said there were critters and months and gems etc associated with it. In fact, when I was going out to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, a woman brought Heywhatever Storm's book and two Northern Cheyenne guys told me it was bogus. Not even close to what they believed. So fast forward and all of a sudden, everywhere I go is medicine wheel this and medicine wheel that. Like it's all traditional.  ::) Last sumer, this nuage shop at a psychic fair and a guy was supposed to do storytelling. He couldn't come so he sent my husband's cousin instead. and this white guy, following the fake shaman was trying to teach him about the medicine wheel! My friend (same one) said well, Gene doesn't know about it cause he's Coastal not Plains. (well, kinda right). I wish more people would speak up like this woman. Let the nuagers have their wheel. Then they can leave us out of it. The last time someone asked me about it I said it was a calendar as far as I knew. They didn't like my answer for some reason.

Offline dabosijigwokush

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #3 on: May 23, 2007, 05:16:36 am »
in 1989 pet sematary the book and the movie filmed in bar harbor maine.
and a "micmac medcine wheel" that was the center of the cematary
quoted as soiled ground

just to let you know where alot of people got the idea.


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2007, 06:10:47 pm »
re:sweat lodges....yes, we do have sweats and they are privately held, which is the reason why not many people outside of my nation know this. 

Offline Jamie Hume

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2007, 11:37:11 pm »
Many years ago I was at a conference where the Medicine Wheel came up. It was used racially. Afterwards an elder approached me...she probably could see I found it disturbing....anyway, she was appaulogiozing. I was taken a back by this. I didn't know why on earth she would be appaulogizing to me.

This lovely woman was in the residential school system. She talked to me about her life before school and her teachings. She said that they had something like the medicine wheel but with different colours that in no way reflected colours of human beings. Her teachings were nothing like the ones we had both just heard.

She too, and this was way back in the early 1980's, was horrified at this invaisive idea. My ex-husband also spoke many times of Urban Native Phylosophy as a new phenomina. His four direction teachings, or Medicine Wheel ,was again different and was a life phylosophy.  So I appreciate that you have noted that you were refering to east coast peoples not just everyone accross the board!

Every Nation has its own individual beauty. I am so happy to see your post. I heard that the Medicine Wheel that I first saw came from the South East in Hopi Navaho country! There are other four direction teachings that I understand to be quite legitamate. It is so important to hear these things through.

Some of my cousins trace part of their lineage to down that way. Restoring truths, history, context is something essential to healing humanity globally however people choose to procede from there. It is a sacred trust history. IMO.

Safe journey!


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2008, 12:57:36 am »
hi, as a former student of Andrea, i am happy to announce that the Treatise she mentions - "The Assault on Aboriginal Oral Traditions: Past & Present." has just been published in an important book-"Aboriginal Oral Traditions-Theory, Practice, Ethics"
In fact many of my canadian Aboriginal heroes are in the anthology including Mi'kmaq Grand Councilor Stephen Augustine, Rebecca Bellmore and Greg Young-Ing. Heres the publishers website:

Unbeknown to my former Professor, I too began an exploration of the Medicine Wheel in Wapana'ki Society, after many years i came up with the same conclusion.
 I was only able to find scant references in Wapana'ki languages concerning the Medicine Wheel. In Mi'kmaq the 4 directions are often associated with Kluskap, however the word in Mi'kmaq for North is Oqatanuk- I/we have arrived.  And in Maliseet, the word for Eagle is Cipelokan and Cipe is also the name for the direction East.
Its is my belief also, that respect for the Medicine Wheel is embedded in the Langauges, however the Medicine Wheel that is taught in the maritimes is an invented spritual tradition, colonialist/capitalist in nature, and damaging.  Furthermore the Medicine Wheel (as found in the Nations West of us) was not a teaching mechanism Wapana'ki Peoples used before contact.
As long as its adherents maintain this invented tradition, they will never have to seek out the true teachings, and the true teachings are there to be found.
In the Native Studies textbook she mentions there is another fraud espoused, with pictures of a Wampum Belt, purported to be the original record of a treaty with the catholic church from 1610, (Fr. Maillard had our People recreate this ancient Wampum Belt in the 1800's but those are gone too), when actually the Belt pictured is from another Nation.  (Greg Johnson - Eskasoni  exposed this fraud in a conference on Invented Spirtual Traditions that Andrea's Native Studies dept. sponsored). but maybe thats better reserved for another Thread.

Offline ska

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #7 on: May 13, 2008, 11:23:11 pm »
Thanks, Apukjij, for the heads up on the new book from Fernwood with writings from Andrea Bear and others.  I've asked Fernwood to send an examination copy,  tout de suite!

Cheers, ska


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2008, 01:58:43 am »
I think your are correct. I believe it's newage. I never ever heard of it until a few years ago, I saw a T-shirt at a PowWow that had that on the front with a lot of writing. And that was just talking about the colors and these being tied to different races. Didn't even bother with the Medicine Wheel. He didn't know what he was talking about, I didn't know and the people with me didn't know, as we had never heard this before in any teaching. And no one I know would put it on a T-shirt to sell, if it were for real. That's just my opinion.


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2008, 02:25:28 am »
- removed by author -
« Last Edit: May 29, 2010, 08:17:33 am by nighthawk »


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2008, 02:28:39 am »
That's a thought, they use a lot of Jung in the New age. I look and see.


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2008, 03:52:26 am »
I did a brief check, not a fan of Jung. Maybe his use of Collective Unconscienous. He had an idea that all human psyches are linked togeather. Maybe Buddist or some of the other Eastern Religions as they believe all living beings are connected. And I came across a new one I am totally not familiar with. Sociology. Called the Social Ghost absolutely has to do with race  I don't know when this started. Apparently taught in some school courses. How Whites should view and deal with their racism, going all the way back to their forefathers. Can't really find any good information on what it is. So it may be one, all or a combination of things. But where ever it came from, it's recent. Newage. On buttons and T-shirts, it's commerical.

Offline educatedindian

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2008, 02:11:00 pm »
Like was pointed out, the idea of the four races of man is Euro, and so are the colors they use. Even Euros did not use the color scheme until relatively recent in history. Romans didn't call themselves white people. Euros calling themselves white didn't happen until at least the 15th century. Sometimes the definition of who was "white" kept changing. Germans and Irish were often considered to be "Blacks" when they first came here. So were Asians initially. It's pretty strange to call all Asians "yellow" when many Japanese and Koreans are fairer skinned than many Euros, and many southeast Asians are as dark and have similiar features to some Africans. Tiger Woods's features and skin tone come as much from his Thai mother as his Black father.

For that matter, I'm not the color of a firetruck and doubt anyone else here is either. We're brown skinned.

I've seen some Nuagers also claim the four colors of the four sacred directions of the Lakota stand for the four races, and even recall an article where a Lakota elder had to explain to young Lakota that this claim was not true.


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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2008, 12:15:28 am »
This is one of the better coverages of "Black Dutch", also a link to "Black Irish". Just read the page and links. You don't have to join.

Offline Defend the Sacred

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Re: Warning for Maritime Natives from Andrea Bear Nicholas
« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2008, 04:42:24 am »
As for all that stuff about Natives and circles, well I don't see why this has to be something mystical, it's pretty well known that some (many) of us liked living in circular dwellings (and still do), e.g. wikuom ('wigwam') is a circular house. Fire pits even to this day are built in a circle using stones; it's not a "Medicine Wheel", it's just a circular fire pit. To me there's something hilarious about people taking things that were just part of everyday life pre-invasion and a few centuries later waxing all poetic about it, when it is about things that are very practical and pragmatic and part of life, or that we just preferred, like houses with a circular floor plan rather than one with corners. No corners, no place for dust to gather. :D

Yeah, like I found a website yesterday with a pic of a typical (reconstructed) ancient Irish roundhouse. What did they call it? - "Druid House." Uh, no. All the people of that era lived in that style of house, not just the spiritual leaders and educated classes.

Yes,l"Black Irish" usually means an Irish person with very dark hair. Usually also with dark eyes, but that's a bit more variable. Some of the Gaelic naming systems rely pretty heavily on using hair color for nicknames.