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What is an Indigenous Perspective on Holistic Health?

Krista-Dawn writes from her perspective as a settler learning about the Christian Medicine Wheel to live out one of our 9 Signs of Transformation: Breakthrough to Freedom.

When you imagine yourself healthy and in balance, what do you see?

Eight months ago, I ran into my friend Hector, an Indigenous Gitxsan elder and long-time neighbour in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. "How ARE you? You don't look so great." he asked gently in a concerned tone.

I usually would scowl at such a description, but this time, I just shrugged my response - "You're right, I’m NOT great." I was weighed down by months of chaos in the streets of the Downtown Eastside, various interpersonal conflicts, financial stress, and looming family transitions. "Life is difficult." begins M. Scott Peck's book, "The Road Less Travelled" - and he is right on the nose about that one!

Hector offers classes on the Christian Medicine Wheel, a tool for living in balance within the Indigenous worldview with God at the centre. He thought it might help me address some of the challenges I was facing. I took up his offer to meet weekly to learn about the wheel and how to apply it to my daily life. Twenty-seven years of intentional choices to build relationships across cultures has taught me that curiosity and humility are essential first postures. I am glad I said yes.

Holistic Health Begins with Creator at the Centre

Over several months, my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health visibly improved to myself and others. Building my wheel with Emmanuel at the centre, I learned to discern which aspects of the wisdom from the four directions were necessary for my current physical, emotional, mental and spiritual states. We added a layer each week, moving from general commitments to daily practices. We added scriptures from the four gospels and other foundational scriptures from my life history. At the end of creating my personal wheel, I learned how to turn it into a prayer that could begin my day.

Creator, I pray that you will lead me to greater health and balance in my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves.

The wisdom of the medicine wheel challenged many of my Western worldviews, and it complemented so many aspects of the scripture's teaching on living in freedom with Christ. In most of Jesus’ encounters with people, he addressed their request for physical healing, taught them about the Kingdom of God, and addressed their spiritual needs.

It also gave me hope to reflect on how God gifted various elements of health for my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being throughout my childhood, youth and adulthood.

All those elements strengthened my confidence in my true identity as a beloved child of God. This in turn gave me the courage to reflect on more complicated aspects of how my story is impacted by the history of white settlers in Canada without getting stuck in defensive guilt.

As I experienced greater strength and healing in all aspects of my life, I had the energy and motivation to move towards building a family wheel and then a community wheel. It makes logical sense that you need healthy individuals if you want a healthy family unit. If you want healthy communities, you need healthy families full of healthy individuals. Everything is connected- when one part suffers, it affects the others.

From Healthy Individuals to Healthy Families

The family wheel gave me categories to imagine with my husband and kids what our family might look like if we were thriving. The four directions correspond to four areas of health for families: our physical environment and finances, human relations, dominant thinking patterns and cultural and spiritual life. After learning about each area, I created questions to facilitate a family conversation about the four areas as they applied to our immediate life circumstances:

I was so grateful to be able to share the wisdom of the medicine wheel with my family. We had a very bonding experience talking through the questions. I had never asked my 14 and 18 year old what they thought drives our decision-making and how we interact inside and outside our family. Questions like, "What do you think we say we believe and value? Which of those do you think we actually practice?" brought surprising answers and good sharing.

Help me to grow in your love with depth of insight and knowledge, leaving space to believe that you are at work in others that make me angry and disappointed. I put them back into your hands, and I trust that you are powerful and able to love us all, just as we are in this moment.

The family wheel helped us create agreed-upon prayer points and reminders on how we want to maintain open and honest conversations with each other. We now have a list of agreed-upon values to drive our decisions together. Hector also encouraged me to find accompanying scriptures I could meditate upon and pray from regularly to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into greater health in the four directions.

Healthy Families Build Up Healthy Communities

Moving on from the family wheel, I reflected on my Downtown Eastside community assets and evidence of broken shalom in four areas of the community wheel. Servant Partners' framework of 9 Signs of a Transforming Community of Shalom fits perfectly within these four community wheel areas: the community's political and administrative abilities, its social life, economic life and environmental impact, and finally, the community's cultural and spiritual thriving.

Help me believe I am blessed when I am poor in spirit, meek, hungry, thirsting for righteousness, and in mourning from our lack of justice. Surround me with your comfort and give me eyes to see your beauty to sustain me as a shalom builder even if I'm persecuted or suffer because of it. Help me co-create beauty for my healing so that others can be comforted with the comfort I have received from You.

Learn how to create your own Christian Medicine Wheel with us!

We currently offer training workshops, cohorts and coaching in all four aspects of the community wheel. Please ensure you are signed up for our monthly newsletter to learn about our upcoming offerings! Hector and I are also eager to facilitate weekend retreats to help settlers of all backgrounds create individual and family wheels.

If anything in my story has sparked your hunger to find greater freedom in an area of your life, please email me at and we can talk about bringing this retreat to you and your community!

In all these things, remind me that you are Emmanuel. You don't abandon me. You offer yourself and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as I walk through whatever this day holds.

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