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May 9: Teachings of Our Elders - Demus McDonald on The Medicine Wheel

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North Dakota Native American Essential Understanding Number seven is about native identity. It states individual and communal identity is defined and supported by shared native languages, kinship systems, Tiospaye, Clan structures, traditional teachings, values, sacred laws and ceremonies. A continuum of tribal identity unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional lifestyle. There is no generic American Indian.

In this episode of Dakota Datebook, we'll hear Demus McDonald, enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Dakota Nation, talk about the medicine wheel.

Demus McDonald:

Red is the color of mother earth. It's also the color of wisdom. So in the medicine wheel, black is west, red is north, yellow is east, white is the south. So red is the color of the north. It's black, red, yellow, white. Red is the color of wisdom. So that's what I always went by that. And now, you'll see where the number of values went up to. I think it's up to eight now. But here's what the college educated Indians, they'll take a word brave, they'll find it in a Roget Thesaurus and there's another way of saying brave, so they'll add that on. And generous, they'll look another way of saying generous, that now it's up to eight and they all kind of mean the same thing. But originally, it's the four Indian values. And that's what I go by in the medicine wheel.

If you'd like to learn more about the North Dakota Native American essential understandings, and to listen to more Indigenous elder interviews, visit

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.