Medicine Wheel Ceremony: Interview with Elder Phil L’Hirondelle

Almost 25 years ago, Phil L’Hirondelle (whose father was Cree and mother was British) and Cree elder Amy Eustergerling obtained an Environmental Youth Team grant while working together at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre in Vancouver. They used it to create a medicine wheel in VanDusen Botanical Garden and since then, every solstice and equinox, a ceremony marks the changing season and honours the cyclical nature of growth and healing.

Join us  at the Medicine Wheel in VanDusen on December 17th from 12.00pm to 3.00pm for the Winter Solstice Medicine Wheel Ceremony. Learn more about how to partake here.

Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association (VBGA): What is a medicine wheel?

Phil L’Hirondelle (PH): A medicine wheel is a large circle built on the ground from stones that mark east, south, west and north to represent the body, mind, emotion and spirit. The quadrants also represent the seasons and age—the Elders taught me that from birth to 25, we’re in the spring of our lives; from 26 to 50, the summer, from 50 to 75, autumn and from 75 to 100, winter. I bring flags of different colours to the medicine wheel in VanDusen—red, yellow, black and white. I remember this old Christian song I learned when I was a kid (sings): “Red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” They’re talking about Jesus, but we do the same kind of teachings with the medicine wheel, because every race carries a medicine.

VBGA: What happens during a medicine wheel ceremony?

PH: It’s pretty participatory. People can bring some small stones to the wheel, and we also have some on hand. In the beginning, I lay some stones down in each of the four directions and do some teachings about body, mind, emotion and spirit. Those four directions touch on just about everything in a person’s life. Usually, people have something physically going on with them, and the emotional piece is a big one. It’s an area that a lot of people try to avoid, I think, in their life. So, I spend a lot of time talking about the emotional part. And of course, the mental part, all the things we read and watch and what we’re influenced by. A step beyond that is, “How do you quiet the mind to stillness?” It’s almost like a Buddhist teaching, you might say. And as we think about these four areas of our life, we think of a prayer or a word that we want to put into our stone and then we lay the stone down at the point in the medicine wheel where it belongs.

VBGA: Why do the ceremonies take place during solstices and equinoxes?

PH: The wheel is about cyclical teachings, how the spring leads to summer, to fall, to winter and back to spring again, and what we can learn from that return. We’re taught in life a lot about lineal teachings, even the way we sit in rows in school, or are taught to read from left to right. But the wheel offers teachings about the wholeness of life. I’ll use myself as an example. I’m in my 70s. So, this is the fall time of life. We call that harvest time. You know, all the seeds that you laid in your spring and summertime, they usually come to visit you in the fall. And that can be both positive and negative. The wheel is a place to recognize cyclical patterns and lay a seed for the future.

VBGA: Who introduced you to the medicine wheel?

PH: I had ended some negative habits in my life, I had stopped drinking and that’s when the teachers started to appear. Our native beliefs say that you have to clean yourself up first before the teachers will come to you. A lady named Bernice Falling Leaves introduced me to it. She was quite an amazing woman who traveled all over the world, making networks. She’d go up to Alaska and put a stone there and then she’d take a stone from Alaska down to Mexico. And she made a kind of worldwide wheel you might say. She always said, “These rock people are very alive!” Because we consider everything to be alive, and we call the stones the old record keepers.

VBGA: Who is invited to take part in the ceremony?

PH: Everybody. All ages and backgrounds. I learned about the wheel when I lived on the Prairies from my Cree Elders, but the wheel exists all over the planet. Celtic people have a wheel; the East Indian people have a wheel; the Mexicans have a wheel; the Maori have their own kind of wheel. So, the teachings can be universalized and personalized and offered to everyone, because everyone brings their own medicine to the wheel. I use myself as an example quite often because my mother was from England and my dad is Cree, so their two medicines joined. If you join us at the ceremony in VanDusen in June, you’ll come away learning about the people where you live, whose territory you’re on, and who was there first. Out where we’re living, in Chilliwack, they’ve unearthed villages that are up to 10,000 years old! You’ll come away with a better understanding of that, and it will be helpful for you in your own life as well, as far as going into your next step of your life. It’s about mapping your life and putting it in balance and harmony.

Join us on Decmeber 17th from 12.00pm to 3.00pm for the Winter Solstice Medicine Wheel Ceremony. Learn more about how to partake here.