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What the Number 4 Means to Native Culture (UBC Day 4)

Native View: Number 4 is Important

The number four is important to Native cultures and is symbolized on the four Directions Circle, or Medicine Wheel. A circle represents the cycles in life. Usually the same four colors are used in the four directions, although different tribal groups may use the colors in a different order.

medicine wheel

Yellow is the common color for the East where light from the morning Sun rises. It’s the beginning of a new day, a new life is on the horizon. 

The other colors are black, white, and red.

Four is an important number because it represents the circle of life in many areas:

  • Four Directions: East, South, West, North
  • Four Seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
  • Four Stages of Life: Birth, Youth, Adulthood, Death
  • Four areas of human harmony: Mind, Body, Spirit, Culture
  • Four Elements of Nature: Earth, Fire, Water, Wind
  • Four Heavenly Beings: Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars

These are a few examples. Can you think of others? 

You can see all things are related. 

4 Categories with 4 Books I've Connected with in a Special Way

Familiar Family and Place

  1. Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich-Smith (contemporary family, encouragement)
  2. At the Mountains Base by Traci Sorell (poetry, veterans)
  3. We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom (SRST protest)
  4. Forever Cousins by Laurel Goodluck (Family relations)


  1. Fry Bread by Kevin Maillard Noble (poetry, informational, food)
  2. We’re Still Here by Traci Sorell (classroom setting, facts)
  3. What Your Ribbon Skirt Means to Me: Deb Haaland’s Historic Inauguration by Alexis Bunten (historical event told “in story”)
  4. Contenders by Traci Sorell (baseball history)

Chapter Books

  1. Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich-Smith (grandpa/grandson relationship told in short episodes)
  2. High Elk’s Treasure by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve (mystery)
  3. Jo Jo Makoons: Used to be Best Friends (young voices and humor)
  4. Jo Jo Makoons: Fancy Pants (Series by Dawn Quigley, 3rd one just released is Snow Day)

Middle Grade

  1. Indian No More by C. W. McManis and Traci Sorell (1950s story about what happened to Native people)
  2. Ancestor Approved edited by C. Leitich-Smith (related short stories)
  3. The Sea in Winter by Christine Day (A ballerina finds peace in nature with her blended family)
  4. Sisters of the Neversea by C. Leitich-Smith (fantasy, Native twist)

These books are a small portion of the new Native authored and illustrated children’s stories released since 2019. These are the first Native created books that made a profound difference in my life and 2nd career as a children’s author. I wish I had books like these when I was a young reader. 

I’m so excited to see new releases, and overall, Native published stories are increasing! Our children and grandchildren will be able to see themselves in books… authentically…finally.

Each time I read a new book, I “see” new ways of writing contemporary stories with Native characters sharing their culture, traditions, and family situations. I am inspired to continue my writing journey and include my own Native experiences. Hopefully, I’ll join the new wave of published Native children’s literature soon!

And teachers, librarians, and parents, I hope you’ll read some of these stories with the young people in your care. The stories are sometimes serious, but also delightful, funny, and important to share.



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