Four Worlds

Four Worlds

Four Worlds was born out of the intense deliberations and prayers of a gathering of Aboriginal elders and community leaders that was held on the Blood Indian Reservation on the high plains of Alberta in the last week of December 1982. Forty distinguished representatives of North American tribes met in search of a solution to the social devastation brought on by alcohol, poverty and an increasing sense of powerlessness in Indigenous communities.



The name Four Worlds emerged from this gathering because of the ancient cultural and spiritual significance of the medicine wheel. The four cardinal points of the medicine wheel can be used to explain the complex reality of personal and community development. It is a symbol common to almost all Indigenous people in North, South and Central America. It can be found, in fact, in most tribal cultures around the world.

Elders Meeting


Founding Principles
The elders gathered at our founding meeting identified four principles of community development and change, which became the foundation of all our subsequent work.

Development from within
Healing and development must come from within the communities of people who desire change, and must largely be directed by those people.

No vision; No development
If the people have no vision of human possibility other than the one in which they find themselves, they cannot heal themselves, they cannot develop and, ultimately, they cannot survive. Culture is the mother of vision. Developing people need to rediscover the life-preserving, life-enhancing values and insights of their own traditional experience.

Individual and community development are connected
The development of individuals, and the healing and development of their families and communities go hand-in-hand. Personal and social development are interdependent.

Learning is the engine of change
Learning drives the process of development. People have to learn how to live in the world as individuals, families and communities in new ways that are life-preserving and life-enhancing. Learning is the fundamental dynamic of human development.


Our Story
Using these basic principles and analysis Four Worlds began working with many Indigenous (and other) communities around the world, engaging people and development organizations in personal growth, healing and learning processes, and fostering social and community development.

The “Four Worlds Development Project”, as it was then called began as a research project based at the University of Lethbridge, and focused on supporting Canadian Aboriginal community efforts to address issues related to community healing and development.
Annual summer Institutes ten years in a row brought 300-500 Native people together to learn and strategize for community betterment.

In its first decade of operations, Four Worlds provided and published dozens of books, curriculum pieces, films and concept papers including the still very popular “Sacred Tree” and “Walking with Grandfather” series.  During that same period, Four Worlds teams worked with more than a hundred Indigenous communities across North America, supporting community healing and development protocols.

As Four Worlds work became known our team was increasingly invited to work in international development settings ranging from the South Pacific to Africa, to the former Soviet Union.

The Four Worlds Centre for Development Learning emerged (in the early 1990s) out of all this work as a research, training and technical assistance group that provides direct services to communities, development organizations and projects around the world, to Indigenous communities, governments and organizations, as well as to agencies whose work intersects with and impacts grassroots communities.