Change to Chill for Native and Indigenous Youth

All cultures have practices that are used to help cope with challenges and reduce stress, including cultures within Native and Indigenous communities. Engaging your culture can be a helpful way to build mental well-being in an ever-changing world filled with high anxiety and stress.

Created in partnership with Indigenous Peoples’ Task Force

Indigenous Peoples of the U.S.

There are many Indigenous peoples who are Native to the land that is known today as North America. In the U.S., there are more than 500 federally recognized tribes, which are sovereign Nations, including 4 Lakota/Dakota and 7 Ojibwe Nations in Minnesota. Not all tribes have the same practices, but there are several universal cultural teachings that are similar or are shared amongst tribes, including teachings and practices for mental health and well-being. The Ojibwe and Dakota people, who are Native to the land known today as Minnesota (Mnisota in the Dakota language), practice the teachings shared here.**


**Note that the traditional cultural teachings described here are by and for Indigenous peoples and often shared with others. The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of practices outside of one’s own culture(s) is considered cultural appropriation. Change to Chill does not encourage cultural appropriation.

“Here are some of the teachings and medicines we’ve learned to take care of our physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health. We use the Medicine Wheel to represent our teachings because everything moves in a circle, and it is very sacred to us.”

– Nathan Berglund, Indigenous Peoples Task Force

The Medicine Wheel is a fundamental part of many First Nations’ cultures. It explains much of the Indigenous worldview and the meanings behind the beliefs of many Indigenous tribes across North America. The circle represents the connectedness of all aspects of life, building a system of teachings into one symbol. Each direction, season, and element has its own quadrant. All elements of life must balance, respect, and live in harmony with one another.

Learn more about the Medicine Wheel from this video by Indigenous Peoples’ Task Force.

Our First Medicines - Tobacco

Our First Medicines - Cedar

Our First Medicines - Sage

Our First Medicines - Sweetgrass

Healing from Stress & Anxiety Using the Four Sacred Medicines

The four sacred medicines (tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass) are gifts from the Creator. They are cultivated and, before gathering any medicines, thanks are given to Mother Earth by offering tobacco on the ground. There are many ways to use the four sacred medicines, including to support whole well-being as well as spirituality.


Traditional tobacco is sacred and is used to offer thanks. It is known to the Dakota people as caŋsasa and to the Ojibwe people as asemaa. Caŋsasa is the inner bark of the red willow tree. Asemaa is a tobacco plant that is grown and is used to pray to the Creator, it is offered to someone when asking for help, and it is offered to nature and animals.

Traditional tobacco is not the same as the commercial tobacco. Commercial tobacco (like tobacco in cigarettes) is altered with chemicals. Watch Reclaiming Sacred Tobacco in Minnesota’s Indigenous Communities to learn more about traditional tobacco.


The leaf of the Cedar tree is used to increase positive emotions, purify the air, and for protection to ward off negative energy. It also has physical medicinal properties. Cedar is used in a variety of ways by smudging, in tea, or in baths.


Sage is the plant that the Ojibwe and Dakota people use to cleanse the mind and spirit and purify the air. Sage does this through its scent and through its antimicrobial properties. Benefits of burning sage include:

  • Improved mood
  • Stress reduction
  • Anxiety relief
  • Improving intuition
  • Removing bacteria from the air
  • Repelling insects
  • Purifying specific objects


Sweetgrass is a tall, wild grass that grows in the U.S. and Canada. In its many uses, it brings about positive energy. It represents positivity, strength, and connectedness to the Creator and all our relations. Sweetgrass also has physical medicinal properties.

Life Balance through Other Traditional Cultural Teachings

Practicing traditional cultural teachings—customs—is one important way to maintain whole well-being—that is psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. Elders and adults pass these ways down to children and young people to support well-being and maintain Native traditions.


Known as the Creator’s Game (Baaga’adowewin in Ojibwemowin and Takapsicapi in Dakota), the game of lacrosse is a gift from the Creator and is medicine. Playing lacrosse helps to reduce stress in different ways. It increases lung capacity and boosts endorphins. It builds strength and endurance that enhances the body’s ability to cope with stress. It is also a form of prayer.

Beading and Regalia Making

The practice of beading and regalia (traditional clothes) making are part of who we are as Native peoples. These activities are fun because you get to express yourself and—because we must pause and sit still for this hands-on activity—they are meditative as well. Creating your own outfit is an empowering experience. Making regalia may include sewing a skirt or other clothes, adorning clothes with beads or beading jewelry.


Dance, especially powwow dancing, is a stress-relieving activity. Powwows are gatherings and ceremonies, bringing people together to socialize, dance, eat, and more. For many years, the practice of Indigenous religion was illegal. So we connected with one another through powwow. There are many powwow dances with many purposes. Women’s dances include: Traditional, Jingle, Fancy Shawl, and Women’s Traditional Southern Style. Men’s dances include: Traditional Bustle, Traditional Woodland Style, Fancy Bustle and Grass Dance. Dances like the Jingle dance are healing.


There are many different types of ceremonies that support whole well-being. For example, offering traditional tobacco and praying to the Creator, praying for the water, naming ceremonies and sweat lodges.


Smudging is the burning of one or more of the four sacred medicines. The medicine is placed in a shell and burned so the smoke can waft through the air and onto a person or object.

Indigenous Peoples Task Force

Located in Minneapolis, Indigenous Peoples task Force (IPTF) works to strengthen the wellness of the Native community in Minnesota in a way that is based in indigenous values and ways of knowing. This includes connecting Native people to the indigenous healing traditions that have been passed through generations. All of which is part of IPTF’s mission to “strengthen the health and education of Native people.”


Read More About How to Identify Yourself With Change to Chill

Change to Chill hopes to help teens form a better understanding of what their sense of identity is, and to feel positive and accepting of themselves.

We acknowledge the existence of inequities related to race, gender, and other social identities and recognizes the need to create a more inclusive and equitable society. We also know topics of identity are complex and sometimes difficult to talk about. Change to Chill continues to address these topics in an intentional way. Stay tuned for more!