University Relations and Communications


November 4, 2016

 Medicine wheel at MSUB

MSUB’s seventh annual Medicine Wheel will honor both Native American traditions, American veterans and Emeritus Professor Ben Steele, a prisoner of war, who passed away this year.

MSUB American Indian Outreach to hold Veterans Medicine Wheel with tribute to Ben Steele

Annual event will begin in LI 148 and continue with Medicine Wheel construction on the lawn between the Liberal Arts building and the College of Education.



Reno Charette, American Indian Outreach, 657-2144

University Relations, 657-2266


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Montana State University Billings students, faculty, staff and Billings community members are invited to gather for Veteran’s Day to help build a medicine wheel in honor of veterans and Native American college students.


Special recognition will be given this year to MSUB Emeritus Professor Ben Steele, who passed away on September 25, 2016.


This is the seventh annual Medicine Wheel event, which is set for 11:45 a.m. to 1p.m., Thursday, Nov. 10, beginning in Library Room 148. The ceremony will then move on to the lawn between the Liberal Arts Building and the College of Education.


The event is free and open to the public.


American Indian Outreach Director Reno Charette said the yearly ceremony is a chance to integrate American Indian culture and philosophy into mainstream culture.


She points out that Native Americans have enlisted in every major conflict for America for over 200 years and “in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group.”


Charette said the group decided to honor Steele because of his dedication to the University and his ability to overcome his experience during World War II.


In 1959, Steele was hired by what was then Eastern Montana College of Education as an assistant professor of art. Years before, as a private in the U.S. Army Air Corp, he survived the Bataan Death March, in which roughly 7,000 soldiers perished in the tropical heat and at the hands of unforgiving captors during a 66-mile march during World War II.


While still in in the Philippines, during 1942, Steele and his fellow soldiers would surrender to the Japanese and spend four harrowing years as prisoners of war.


It was during this time and recovering from beriberi and a foot infection that Steele taught himself to draw in a prison hospital in Manila.


In honor of utilizing charcoal to draw during those dark days as a POW, the Medicine Wheel ceremony will have participants use it as well.


“I want to tie into what Ben used,” Charette said. “And so, we will have people write the names of the veterans in their lives with charcoal chalk this year.”


Another element drawing on the life of Steele is how the Medicine Wheel will be laid out. This year, the wheel will have quadrants highlighting elements of Steele as an educator, friend, artist and warrior.


As in year’s past, the event will begin inside, in Library Room 148, with music and guests including School District 2 Superintendent Terry Bouck, who will discuss the naming of a new middle school in honor of Steele, and Emeritus Art Professor Neil Jussila, who taught on campus from 1969 through 2012.


Jussila first met Steele while taking graduate school classes at MSU-Bozeman in 1968.


The ceremony will then move outside with the building of the Medicine Wheel on the lawn between the Liberal Arts building and the College of Education, where it will remain until December.