by Bethany Yellowtail
When I sit down to design my collections, I often start by reflecting on the symbols and creations of my ancestors. Through their hearts, minds, and hands, their designs came to life. Everything they made was done with purpose and intention. From the colors they chose to the materials they sourced, they were deliberate in their choices for the betterment, protection, and longevity of our people and our stories. While they lived in times that were much different than ours now, their teachings still live on and are just as relevant today.
One of the most recognized symbols and teaching tools of personal power, health, and wellbeing passed down from our ancestors is the Medicine Wheel. Originating from the Great Plains region, this ancient symbol has many adaptations across tribes all over the world but is rooted in its representation of balance, interconnection, and continuous spiritual and personal growth. A circle divided into four equal parts of yellow, red, white, and black; this tool is intended to provide guidance for the betterment of oneself, which innately ripples across all mankind. Sometimes referred to as the Sacred Hoop, the four quadrants represent the four cardinal directions, the four winds, the four elements, and the four parts of the human soul (mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional) (Luger & Collins, 2022).
I was first introduced to a Cheyenne perspective of the Medicine Wheel by Setovaatse Medicine Bull when I was a student at Chief Dull Knife College. I specifically recall him saying that this was but ONE of many perspectives. He illustrated the four Medicine Wheel quadrants with each color assigned to a season, a cycle of life, and the cardinal directions (S. Medicine Bull, personal communication, June 2015). In this same lesson he also shared how this relates to the Cheyenne Creation Story and the origin of our people the Tsistsistas - the people I come from. I knew sitting in his class that this would one day inspire my own designs. But it wasn't until I could truly apply that lesson and understand the Medicine Wheel and its colors in the context of my own life, that a collection could be brought forward.
Images of Bethany Yellowtail by Josué Rivas x INDÍGENA
The Medicine Wheel Collection comes at the heels of immense change on a global scale, as well as on an intimate personal level. Many of us have experienced deep grief, loss, and sadness, myself included. With so much forced change, it has been hard to find direction with so much uncertainty in the world. I’ve leaned heavily on the gifts of my ancestral teachings and wisdom during this time and found humility, clarity, and most importantly strength.
These medicine colors of red, yellow, black and white and their meanings have been used by my Tsistsistas ancestors for time immemorial. They are still utilized by our people in numerous ceremonial ways to deepen our relationship to the Creator, to remind us of our connection to all things, to protect us, and to help us stand in our power through the eminent changes, challenges, and seasons of life. These teachings have helped me in my way forward - they’ve strengthened and empowered me in my purpose.
This Native American Heritage Month, I feel fortunate to share this with you and send my love and gratitude to my mentors, my family, ancestors, and the Creator of all things for guiding me here. The Medicine Wheel Collection was created from a place of intention, prayer, and personal power; it is my offering, and just like the teachings that inspired each piece, they are universal and meant to be enjoyed by all.
SOURCES & FURTHER READING RECOMMENDATIONS:
Luger, C. & Collins, T. (2022). The Seven Circles: Indigenous Teachings for Living Well. Harper One.
Kudos Bethany, and thank you for sharing this knowledge. Everything about the collection is beautiful, but not as beautiful as you love. Stay creative.
Fabulous explanation, I’m glad you are able to use what I share with my students. So, you as a former student have used the cultural knowledge and have brought it to existence.
Nea’ese for acknowledging me. Continue to live your dream.