Native American Spirituality and the 12 Steps

The essence of Native American spirituality is its interconnectedness with all that exists. There is an inherent belief in the natural order of the Universe. The 12 Steps represent an order which help humans rediscover harmony in their own lives.

The Medicine Wheel and 12 Step interpretation presented here were developed by White Bison and are based on the Teachings of the Medicine Wheel, the Cycle of Life and the Four Laws of Change. The basic premise is:

  • All native cultures believe in a Supreme Being.
  • We believe in the Elders as a guiding force.
  • We believe all tribal nations are different from each other.
  • We believe that alcohol is destroying us and we want to recover.
  • We believe there is a natural order running the Universe.
  • We believe our traditional ways were knowledgeable about the natural order.
  • A spiritual person is one who screws up every day and keeps coming back to the Creator.
  • Those who walk this road will find that our thoughts must change to the way Warriors think.

It’s a warrior’s path which moves a person from despair to a life of happiness and service to others. Working the 12 Steps and making them a part of every day life is a Warrior’s journey.

A Vision for Us

To Heal from our historical trauma as Native people, and from the stress of today’s world.
To find the Hope that gives us the faith, courage and strength to become Wellbriety warriors.
To experience Unity with others, regardless of the “earth suit” each may wear.
And to have the courage to Forgive, so that we may not be burdened and weighed down by what was done to us or what we see being done today.
How shall we begin this Wellbriety Journey? This is our vision:

Build a better world said God
And I answered how?
The world is such a vast place, and so complicated now.
And I am small and useless
There’s nothing I can do.
But God in all his wisdom said,
Build a better you

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and drugs- that we had lost control of our lives.

This step is about being honest. “Yes, I’ve really got a problem. My alcohol or drug use is killing me.” I can’t con myself and just say the words. I must admit it honestly to myself.

Text or Verse

O Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me!
I need strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.
Make me always ready to come to you
with clean hands and straight eyes.


Step 1 requires that we face East and seek to find the Creator in our lives.

Begin by brushing yourself down with sage or cedar.

Make a mind map by drawing a circle in the center of a piece of paper.

Inside the circle write “powerless over drugs/alcohol.”

Brainstorm by thinking about the things related to drugs and alcohol which have caused your loss of power and dignity.

For each one, draw a branch leading away from the circle and label it with a few words.

Each time you think of something related that goes deeper, make a second branch coming off the first.

Make a second mind map noting how your using alcohol and drugs has affected others in your family.


Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could help us regain control.

There is hope no matter how much misery and despair we feel. God can help, but we too must do our part. The Creator has gifted us with free will, and the power of choice, which must be in alignment with our goals.

Text or Verse

My Creator, please lean close and hear my commitment
that I may begin the process of healing.
My Creator, I am hurting.
Oh Great Spirit, accept the pact I make with you today.
I am a spiritual seed.
On my own I don’t now how to grow and be happy.
Plant me near you that I may grow under your power and wisdom.
Great Spirit, alone I don’t know how to do this.
Creator, mold and shape me into a spiritual warrior.
Oh Great Mystery, please hear me.

  • Practice
  • Vision what your life would look like in each of the following areas if a Higher Power were actively working in your life:
  • Relationships
  • Emotions
  • Mental health
  • Employment
  • Happiness
  • Service to others
Step 3: We made a decision to ask for help from a Higher Power and others who understand

This Step focuses on seeking help and guidance from an Elder, a Medicine person, a sponsor, a mentor or a spiritual friend. Allow your eyes, ears and heart to guide you to the right person who can understand and support.

Text or Verse – “Prayer to the Great Spirit”

O Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the winds,
and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me!

I am small and weak.
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty and make my eyes
ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made
and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand
the things you have taught my people.

Let me hear the lessons you have hidden
in every leaf and rock.

I need strength, not to be greater than my brother,
but to fight my greatest enemy – myself.

Make me always ready
to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
my spirit may come to you without shame.


Reflect on your relationship with a Higher Power.

What would you like it to be? Use a mind map to write down the characteristics and traits you envision.

When you are ready to take the 3rd step, go to the Medicine person, spiritual leader, Pipe Carrier or Elder to help you take the step.

Facing East (the place of new beginnings), smoke the pipe.

Say the 3rd Step prayer (above) out loud.

Know that your new beginnings, begin today.

Step 4 :We stopped and thought about our strengths and our weaknesses and thought about ourselves

Self-examination has always been part of Native culture because the cultural definition of success is centered on building character. Before we can build character, we must know our shortcomings, weaknesses and character defects. Self-examination takes a warrior’s courage. To have courage means to have heart. This step is about finding your heart.

Text or Verse

Creator, protect me from my worst enemy – myself.
I ask that you guide me into the badlands of self,
that I may know you better.
Please protect my spirit as I relive the past
in order to recover.
Great Spirit, guide me as I face
the self-examination of the South.


There are several ways to do this step: through the solitude of the Vision Quest, prayer and reflection in a sweat lodge, spending a night in a Tipi with brothers and sisters with the Medicine of the Native American Church, or participating in a sobriety pow-wow. Use the 4th Step inventory guidelines for resentments, fears, and sexual harms

Step 5: We admitted to the Great Spirit, to ourselves and to another person the things we thought were wrong about ourselves.

This step is about disclosing our secrets. When we reveal our secrets to another human being and to the Creator, the heaviness is lifted and we begin to see with our hearts, just as the eagle sees Love in everything. This step deepens our relationship with the Great Spirit.

Text or Verse

Facing South, pray faintly on the wind:

Great Spirit, take my secrets on the four winds and
purify them that I may use them in a good way.


Pick the person to do this step carefully.
It should be the Medicine person, mentor or sponsor you selected in the 3rd step.
Smudge with sage, cedar or sweet grass and face South during the process.
Share your revelations once you have completed the step.
Your spirit will become lighter and you will sense your healing and wholeness.

Step 6 :We are ready, with the help of Great Spirit, to change.

This step consolidates the process of self-discovery through which we identified our character defects and weaknesses. Now we are entirely ready to release them.

Text or Verse

Creator, I stand ready for the winds of change
to carry on its healing process.


  • Make a master list of all the character defects which you are ready to ask God to remove.
  • Create a mind map of what your life will look, feel and sound like without each major defect.
  • Complete this step ceremonially in the sweat lodge.
  • Make a tobacco prayer tie for each of the major defects.
  • Offer the prayer ties, one by one, to the fire which is heating the grandfather (stones) for the lodge.
  • Begin to recite the 6th Step prayer (above.)
Step 7: We humbly ask a Higher Power and our friends to help us change.

At this point in the warrior’s journey we have the knowledge, desire and allies to change. The self-knowledge comes from the inventories and lists made while facing South. Our allies are the sobriety Elders and the Red Road brothers and sisters we’ve been sitting with in sobriety and healing circles. And, now we are also walking each day with our Creator.

Humility is an attitude that will help us start fresh in everything we do. It helps us face life with a beginner’s or learner’s mind. One of the tools to help us is writing and repeating affirmations.

Text or Verse

My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me- good and bad.
I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character
that stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.
Grant me strength as I go out from here to do your bidding.


Place the following affirmation on your mirror and repeat it every time you look at your image:

I am walking the Red Road Journey of wellbriety.
I am proud of my own Native heritage.
I will heal and develop myself so that I may be a
role model for my children.
I can do this! I AM doing this!
It’s a Good Day to Live!

Step 8: We made a list of people who were hurt by our drinking and want to make up for these hurts

This step helps us start to mend the wreckage of our relationships. We acknowledge that we hurt people. In this step we prepare the ground to actually make amends in the next step.

We are connected to all things. When we accept this truth we become willing to look at our part in the creation of the harm. Each person who wronged us or we wronged is carefully considered, respected and honored. To honor one is to honor all, and to dishonor one is to dishonor all.

We pray for forgiveness in all the amends we will do with each person. Others may or may not forgive us. Our work is to be without expectation about the outcome. Through this process we open the door so the blockages of anger, resentment and hatred can be released.

Text or Verse

Creator, help me meditate on each instance of my past
that I may see the truth.
Creator, I pray for each and every relation
I must approach at this time.
Great Spirit, my Sacred Hoop is broken.
Please guide me in healing other Hoops that I have broken.
Creator, help me to focus on my part
in these weakest links of my life.


Amends has two parts:

Apologizing for our own hurtful behaviors.

Asking what we can do to restore harmony and balance.

Use your inventory lists from Steps 5 and 6 to identify those people to whom you owe amends.
Before you begin spend a little quiet time with the land.
Look up to the sky with the intention of finding guidance

Step 9: We are making up to those people whenever we can, except when to do so would hurt them more.

As we walk on the path of forgiveness and justice we stay focused on the things we have done wrong. We are on the path to becoming right with the Creator and with others.

Text or Verse

God is the Love that lets me forgive others and others forgive me.
Creator, guide me in finding the greatest peace, fellowship and
justice with all women and men.


Talk to the Elders in your tribal tradition to find out how to restore justice between people who have hurt each other.

Find out how to make restitution for harm that has been done.

Ask for assistance from your sponsor or mentor to see if by making amends you could potentially create more hurt or harm.

Rehearse what you are going to say.

When making amends, stick to your script and be short, direct and to the point.

When making an amendment by phone or in a letter, hold an eagle feather to remain in good spirit and intent.

If you can’t make an amends because it would create more harm or if the person is not reachable or has died, amends can be done by prayer in the unseen world of Spirit. Ask for help from your Medicine Elder.

Step 10: We continue to think about our strengths and weaknesses and when we are wrong we say so.

This step is about moment-to-moment inner alertness and offering instant amends when necessary.

The only way to change old habits is to create new ones. We we practice being a positive warrior, the negative warrior eventually fades into the background. If we are consistent and diligent we make a new life.

Text or Verse

Evening inventory:

Was I resentful?

Was I selfish?

Was I dishonest?

Was I afraid?

Do I need to discuss anything with anyone? Is there something that I have been holding inside?

Was I kind to everyone?

Was I loving to all?

Could I have done anything better today?

Was I thinking only of myself today?

Was I thinking of what I could do for others today?

Ask for the Creator’s forgiveness.

Ask what I can do to make amends.


As we face North we seek to remain at the center of our personal Medicine Wheel. The center includes the gifts of: compassion, love, peace of mind, positive attitude, trust, forgiveness, acceptance, abundance, empowerment, healing and solutions.

Working the 10th Step and participating in sobriety sweat lodges and recovery circles helps us stay close to our center.

Step 11: We pray and think about ourselves, praying only for the strength to do what is right.

We have always been a people of prayer. Something inside us becomes alert when an Elder prays. This step is about re-awakening our gift of prayer and using it for recovery.

Many of us view a path as a narrow trail, but a spiritual path is unlimited. Prayer and meditation widen the path and remove obstacles in our way. When we seek something bigger than our ego-self we find self-esteem. The deep root of our wellness is our relationship with the Great Mystery. Prayer and meditation keep our spiritual awareness of the unseen world of Spirit very close.

Text or Verse

With this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth; for the Earth is your Grandmother and Mother, and She is sacred. Every step that is taken upon Her should be as a prayer. The bowl of this pipe is of red stone; it is the Earth. Carved in the stone and facing the center is this buffalo calf who represents all the four-legged’s who live upon your Mother. The stem of the pipe is of wood, and this represents all that grows upon the earth. And these twelve feathers which hang here where the stem fits into the bowl…represent the eagle and all the winged’s of the air. All these people and all the things of the Universe, are joined to you who smoke the pipe – all send their voices to Wakan-Tanka the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe you pray for and with everything.
The Sacred Pipe


Morning prayer:

Ask the Creator to direct my thinking today.

Ask him to keep me from feeling self-pity.

Ask him to keep me from being dishonest with myself.

Ask him to keep me from having self-serving motives.

Ask the Creator for inspiration when I am faced with indecision.

Do not ask for anything for myself, unless others will be helped.

Pray that I will be shown what the next step will be.

During the day when I become doubtful I ask for the right thought or action.

Step 12: We try to help other alcoholics and to practice these principles in everything we do

Our culture knows that the individual, the community and the land are so completely interconnected that for wellness or wellbriety, each must participate in the healing journey.

As individuals we can help our brothers and sisters who are still suffering from drug and alcohol abuse one-on-one. We can talk to them about what our lives were like, about the Journey we took to heal ourselves, about what we are like now, and our vision for the future. We can share the good that happened to us when we began to walk the Red Road by blending the Medicine Wheel Teachings of our traditions with the 12 Steps of A.A. We have had spiritual experiences and we found that the vision we created through our mind maps are now coming true in the 12th Step.

Text or Verse

The Elders say, “You can’t keep what you don’t give away, and you can’t give away what you don’t have.”


Part of our 12 Sep work as Native Americans is to serve our families, communities, Nations and organizations. Our cultures have always been focused on giving back to the people and Mother Earth. As soon as we are able in our recovery, we will find joyous service in:

helping to conduct sobriety circles

assisting at traditional gatherings

becoming involved in community wellbriety activities

carrying the message of culturally-based healing to all who are still suffering