The Gifts of the Seven Grandfathers
Many Anishinaabeg view the Seven Grandfather Teachings as traditional knowledge that collectively represents what is needed for community survival. The origin of the teachings is unknown but elders confirm these are important verbs that have long been a part of the language. These fundamental teachings became widely known as the "Seven Grandfathers" when the Anishinaabeg slowly began to control their own education during and after the American Indian Movement. As elders began to retell stories they heard as children they connected the present to a past when these values were both a part of ceremonies and everyday life. Regardless of how they came to be used together, when they now appear in a circle they symbolize much of what defines Minobimaadizi / Living Well.
As Principles for Living
Each Grandfather Teaching is a gift the Anishinaabeg carry, a potential tool for living a good life. Our understanding is that as we use these gifts our experience of living improves. Using these gifts in our lives is an ongoing challenge for each of us, requiring attention, discipline and perseverance.
Using the Gifts
We use these gifts everyday. They work best when used together. For instance, if Sally asks what you think of her new dress, and you think the color is nice but the shape is awful, you have some choices: You could be untruthful, take the easy way out and say, "It looks great." That wouldn't be honest and it wouldn't be helping her. If she thinks it looks "great" she may wear it when she wants to look really good and be disappointed later. You could also use the Gifts and say, "That color is perfect for you but I think some of your other dresses do more justice to your figure." In this situation you would use honesty to tell the truth, generosity to tell her the good points of the dress, courage to risk hurting her feelings with the hope of doing less harm than avoiding the truth, respect to be careful of her feelings, humility to think of her needs before your own wish for an easy response, wisdom to see the larger picture, and love to care about how things will unfold for her around the dress.
According to Dominic Eshkakogan, "Each of these teachings must be used with the rest... to leave out one is to embrace the opposite of what that teaching is." 1
In Anishinaabe Art Today
The painting "The Circle of Life" by Odawa artist and poet, Zoey Wood Salomon captures the Anishinaabe perspective of cycles in balance, a worldview where the gifts of light, lessons, earth, animals and knowledge are part of one continuum.
Zoey writes, "The people of the fires are symbolized by our seven grandmother/grandfather teachings of love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility, truth, and wisdom. Three fires also remind us to maintain balance in our body, our mind, and our spirit."
Click on the image to see a larger version.
Print out the Seven Grandfathers Worksheet and for each teaching, draw what it means for you.
How would your drawings have changed over time?
1. Nishinaabe Bimiiadziwin Kinoomaadwinan: Teachings of the Medicine Wheel; Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, Dominic Eshkakogan
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