The following are some cultural concepts and lessons found in the Four Winds Curriculum. The lessons were chosen for having particular significance for Native American students. However, as is often the case, good lessons are good lessons, and instructors are encouraged to adapt these concepts for all of their students. More detailed lesson plans for these concepts and additional plans are available in the seven units of the Four Winds Curriculum.

Unit: Physical
Substance Abuse
"Alcoholism: The Downward Spiral"

Traditionally, as a people we did not use mood altering substances. We were very much in control of our lives and had high self-esteem with strong character skills. Being unsure of how to handle the fast moving change of our way of life started the substance use and abuse. Decaying personal powers and self-destructive patterns cause the use and abuse of alcohol/drugs to continue.

Freedom from these addictions must start by relearning and regaining our personal powers. Wisdom is a respected part of our heritage. Our elders teach us that people have the wisdom, when they see what needs to be done, to do it successfully without being told what to do. Wisdom and independence go hand in hand.

Cocaine Use and Abuse

There have been a number of different schemes proposed to explain susceptibility to alcohol and drug misuse among Indians. Most indicate that misuse is affected by a tribe's traditional cultural and social integration patterns as well as by social change factors exerted on the tribe by modernization. The susceptibility of each individual Indian, who is subject to two systems of social control, is also linked to these variables. The better integrated one is to both Indian and modern systems, the less the susceptibility to substance misuse. Indians who are well integrated into only their traditional Indian culture, or only a modern society role, although low in susceptibility, are not as low as those who are well integrated in both worlds. Those with the highest risk of misuse are marginal to both Indian traditional and modern cultures. The susceptibility scheme corresponds with the ability of an individual to cope and the social resources available. Coping in both worlds is what most Indians, particularly the young and middle-aged, are asked to do. Lack of adequate social and personal skills increases the likelihood for alcohol and substance misuse, particularly in adolescence and the early twenties.

Emergency Procedures:
First Aid Challenge

Sickness implies an imbalance within the individual and between the individual and his or her universe. Indians believe in a holistic approach to health (i.e., the whole individual must be treated, not merely one physical segment of the body).

Many Indians still prefer being attended by an Indian medicine person rather than by, or in addition to a non-Indian physician. The use of chemical prescriptions may be avoided. When counseling an Indian family on health concerns, the validity of Indian medicine should be recognized.

Age-related Issues:

Our elders play a very important place in our lives. They are the keepers of our traditions, values, language and history. We must show respect to them at all times. Elders are our guides to our future. They are leaders in our community, role models for our children, and play a very important part in their development. The elders are the storytellers of our history; it is through their stories that a lesson is to be learned. They speak with honor and with a great deal of pride. Elders are our teachers. They teach us to be proud and help us to preserve our language.

Their expertise is of vital importance to us. They take us on nature walks, show and tell us where people (our ancestors) started from, and the directions they have traveled. They teach us to respect Mother Earth, nature, and to be in harmony with both. They teach us of the herbs and teas that cure certain ills. We must also be aware of their upbringing and have respect for that. They teach us the survival skills. They shape our way of thinking, socializing, and to view our ever-changing world. That is why we must always show respect towards them.

Diversity needs to be addressed, maintained, and respected. The elders are needed to fulfill the role of teachers of the culture, language, and traditions, and must be included in teaching their culture to the next generation.

Resources which are available to tribal communities from federal, state and private sources include:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Social Security
Adult Protective Services
Veterans Benefits
Indigent burial
Senior Citizens Centers
Elderly Housing
Food Distribution/Food Stamps
Long Term Care
    -Nursing Homes
    -Home and community based services including Adult Day Care, visiting nurses and other home health care
Mental health
Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI)
Social Services

Common Barriers to Access Services and Benefits

Indian elders on reservations do not receive some services and benefits for many reasons. Twenty-one common barriers include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

Myths and Misconceptions about Elder Urban Native Americans

-Dr. Josea Kramer, "Urban American Indian Aging: Misperceptions and Myths", 1991.

Information concerning urban (off-reservation) elder American Indians may be limited due to myths that urban American Indian elders are the responsibility of their tribal governments. Some of these myths include:

"When Indians get old, they retire to the reservation." According to research, a majority of urban American elders do not return to the reservation when they get old.

"American Indians are eligible for special services because they are wards of the government." Indian people are not wards of the government but are U.S. citizens. Social services are provided by tribal governments to their members on the reservation. Usually, tribes do not provide that assistance to off-reservation members. Urban, off-reservation, tribal members may use any available social service.

"Title VI of the Older American Act (OAA) provides funds for nutrition and community services to American Indian tribal government. Therefore Title III, (OAA) providers have the responsibility to serve the older American Indians. " Title VI programs provide services only on reservations by contract with tribes. American Indian elders who reside off the reservation are eligible for services from Older American Act Title III programs

"American Indians have a homogeneous culture." Organizations need to be aware there are differences in the Indian cultures, since there are many different tribes.

Elders in urban areas feel Indian centers are the obvious places for receiving all services. In order for a center to provide services, the elders must view the center as friendly. The many differences within the various tribes must be recognized and understood.

Native American Elders

Tribes are in the best position to provide services to their elders who live on reservations. Tribal elderly programs operated on Indian reservations have the following in common:

Bureau of Indian Affairs adult care-taking funds pay for institutional placements of disabled Indian people who do not require skilled nursing care. Many tribes are using their BIA funds to support in-home services instead of institutional placements.

This is important because placing the elderly in institutions can result in physical isolation and a lack of emotional and cultural support for them and for disabled Indian people.

Unit: Emotional
Interpersonal Skills

There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the word, "assertive"; most people immediately think of another word, "aggressive." They have two entirely different meanings. It is important to have a clear understanding of their definitions.

On one side, there is aggressiveness, a behavior that includes hostile words and actions. On the other side, is passiveness, which is self-denying and restrained, inhibited actions. Then, there is the middle-of-the-road, the white pathway to the Cherokees, the good red road to the Lakota, the area of balance. It is the center ground, the area of balance that the Indian follows and that is "assertiveness." Assertiveness is a behavior to speak and act, where people are able to express their opinions in their own best interest and stand up for themselves honestly without undue anxiety and feelings of guilt.

It is this middle road or appreciation of others that Indian people try to follow. We will always be in two worlds, bicultural people. We will always walk on that middle road. We will try to stay on that middle road, the center lane, neither too far one way or the other, but having a happy balance to our way of life. It is important for all of us to be able to stand up for our rights; to be able to enhance our own self-being and increase our self-esteem.

It is important to maintain assertiveness when someone is being aggressive towards us. Generally, as Indian people, we will simply withdraw from the conversation. But, when dealing with the non-Indian society, we recognize that we cannot continually allow such as impression. It may be important to keep our ground.

Sometimes, the mere fact that we stand firm will make the other person suddenly aware of his or her own aggressive behavior. If we allow that person to continue in an aggressive manner without expressing our own feelings, we only support their aggressiveness. By such action we not only support, but enforce, their aggressiveness.

When we think back on a situation, we should take into consideration the conditions that surrounded the person who was aggressive. Sometimes, the circumstances in which we live becomes so unbearable that we strike out at everyone around us even though they are not responsible. It is a frustrating situation, and we do things we would not nor mally want to do. Let's not be too critical of others but be more tolerant and try to be understanding.


Each person has a unique combination of qualities, unlike any other person in the world. Who we are as individuals depends upon our genes, our experiences, and our culture. In the Native American way, a person's culture and history have always been very important in determining who the individual is. Even though "mainstream" society has not yet affirmed the proud past and present Native American people, Indian people must keep pride in themselves and give it to the children. This means that Native Americans must feel proud and feel pride in themselves as individuals and members of the Red Nation.

Right now it is up to each Native American to teach his/her children that Indian people are the original inhabitants of this continent, and that is a point of pride. Native people must feel good about who they are as a people before they can believe that they have a right to change things for themselves and their children.

Unit: Psychological
Goal Setting

Indians are more oriented to living in the present. There is a tendency toward an immediate rather than postponed gratification of desires. Living each day as it comes is emphasized. This value is closely tied to the philosophy that one should be more interested in being than in becoming.

One result of the disparity between the Indian's present orientation and the European's future orientation is that frustration often results when Indian students are pressured to forgo present needs for future vague rewards.

Goals are necessary to accomplish anything that needs focused attention. Goals change a hope for something into a plan to make it happen.

Seven major steps in goal setting are:

1. Make your goal positive.

2. Make your goal small and specific.

3. Set goals that can be measured.

4. Set deadlines.

5. Make achieving your goals dependent on you alone.

6. Think if the goal you are setting will work against you.

7. Identify your reward when you reach your goal.

Once you have made a decision, you need some way to take action on it. Setting goals can be a powerful way to motivate yourself to the actions you need to take.

Goals should cover different time spans.
Long-Range or Lifestyle choices

These goals are very general and usually involve the way you live or what you value.

Medium-Range or Five-Year Goals

These goals might be more specific on work. They might focus on the kind of job you want.

Short-Range or One-Month to One-Year Goals

These goals, also called action steps, are the work which is actually done. They might be making contacts, writing a resume, finding information about a certain kind of work, or going to a workshop.

Setting these up a week at a time can be a good way to accomplish them.

Time Management

Time is viewed as flowing, as always being with us. Time is relative; clocks are not watched. Things are done as they have to be done. Time is, therefore, flexible and is geared to the activity at hand. This attitude is rooted in the past, when only the sun, moon, and seasons were used to mark the passage of time. Many Indian languages contain no word for time as well as no words to denote a future tense. This view of time is radically different from that of the dominant society in which careful scheduling of activities is important. In that view, time is linear and moves at a fixed, measurable rate. Emphasis is placed on using every minute.

Because of the influence of the traditional view of time, some Indian students may clash with educators when they do not arrive at the appointed hour for class or a meeting. Non-Indians may mistakenly interpret Indians' different attitude toward time as irresponsible.

Unit: Financial
Money Management:

Traditionally, Indians have not sought to acquire saving accounts, life insurance policies, and the like. This attitude results from the past, when nature's bounty provided one's needs. Not all food could be saved, although what meat, fruit, or fish that could be preserved by salt curing or drying was saved. Most other needs (e.g., food, clothing, shelter and land) were provided by nature in abundance, and little need existed to consider saving for the future. In Indian society, where sharing was a way of life, emphasis on saving for one's own benefit was unlikely to be found. This value may be at odds with the dominant culture which teaches one to forgo present use of time and money for greater satisfactions to come.

Emphasis on the European industrial viewpoint in most educational systems causes frustration and anxiety for the Indian student, since it conflicts sharply with so many other values honored by Indians (sharing, generosity, and so on).

Unit: Social

Positive Approaches to Parenting

Traditional Indian child-rearing practices are labeled permissive in comparison with European standards. This misunderstanding occurs primarily because Indian child-rearing is self-exploratory rather than restrictive. Indian children are generally raised in an atmosphere of love. A great deal of attention is lavished on them by a large array of relatives, usually including many surrogate mothers and fathers. The child is usually with relatives in all situations. Indian adults generally lower rather than raise their voices when correcting a child. The Indian child learns to be seen and not heard when adults are present.

Table of Contents Healing Process Cultural Awareness