There is a huge variety of stories and traditional teachings that exist within the North American Indigenous culture, and at Tribal Trade Co., the information we share with you comes from the teachings that have been passed down to us by our Anishnaabe Elders. The teaching of the Seven Grandfathers is an important part of the Ojibwe culture, and is used as a guide for both communal survival and unity as well as personal growth and development.
According to the Ojibwe tradition, the story of the Seven Grandfathers begins when the Creator appointed seven powerful spirits to watch over the people living on Mother Earth. The Seven Grandfathers watched the people of Turtle Island closely, and came to find that they were living hard, unhealthy, negative lives. Concerned for their wellbeing, the Seven Grandfathers sent a messenger to Earth to deliver the teachings the people would need to live happy, healthy, well-balanced lives.
The messenger searched in all Four Directions, but struggled to find the right person to receive the teachings. Finally, the messenger came across a young child, one who had not yet been corrupted and was open to learning how to live a good life. This child was gifted with the role of receiving the teachings which would be delivered once every seven years in the form of a Spirit Animal.
The child traveled the Earth and began to grow, and every seven years he encountered a new Spirit Animal which shared with him a lesson to help him find harmony and balance in his life. The child gifted with the Seven Grandfather teachings grew to be an old man, and once he had finished his journey, he returned to his people in order to share the gifts he had discovered.
In this way, the Creator bestowed upon the Indigenous people the wisdom needed to live in perfect harmony with their physical and spiritual selves, Mother Earth, the Spirits, the Creator, and all of Creation. Used together, these teachings act as a guide to establish moral value and to make positive decisions, and are an important part of many sacred Indigenous traditions and rituals.
The 7 Gifts
Each of the 7 gifts bestowed upon us by the Seven Grandfathers is intended to be used with the other 6. To achieve happiness and harmony, each of the seven teachings must be taken to heart and put into practice, since an imbalance of one can come with negative consequences.
1. Wisdom - Nibwaakaawin
The gift of Wisdom allows us to know what is true and what is right and helps us to make decisions with good judgment and respect for ourselves and our communities. With the gift of wisdom, we are able to think, act, and move through life using our knowledge and personal gifts wisely and are able to achieve positive outcomes.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of wisdom is the Beaver who uses his natural wisdom to survive and help his family thrive. The Beaver also represents an intimate knowledge of nature and using one's natural resources to achieve health, wellness, and prosperity.
2. Love - Zaagidiwin
The gift of Love allows us to care for and protect ourselves and others. First and foremost, we must learn to love ourselves truly and unconditionally in order to achieve inner peace and in order to be able to fully live in harmony with all Creation. Once you know and love yourself, you are able to turn that love outward to influence those around you.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of love is the Eagle who, while flying high in the sky, is able to see life from every angle. The Eagle is also able to fly closest to the Creator, and his feathers are considered sacred in the Indigenous culture.
3. Respect - Minaadendamowen
The gift of Respect helps us to be mindful of the balance of all living things, and reminds us to be kind and loving to those around us. Respect encourages us to honor all of Creation by not being wasteful, taking only what you need, and sharing the rest. Respect in the Indigenous culture is shown for all things, not just fellow humans, including Mother Earth and all living things.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of respect is the Buffalo. The Buffalo has helped to sustain the Indigenous way of life, and gives every part of himself out of respect for the needs of others.
4. Bravery - Aakode’ewin
The gift of Bravery gives us the ability to face life with courage and conviction, and enables us to not only defend ourselves but to defend our strong-held beliefs and our communities. Bravery also helps us to move beyond doubt and anxiety by facing our fears and making tough decisions to benefit our lives.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of bravery is the Bear, who faces her fears in order to protect her young and help them to thrive.
5. Honesty - Gwayakwaadiziwin
The gift of Honesty helps us to recognize and accept who we are, and helps to guide our decision making. Honesty requires us to be honest with our friends and family as well as with ourselves, which in turn can help the individual to understand the gift of Love and live in harmony within themselves.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of honesty is the Raven. The Raven is comfortable exactly as he is, and never seeks to imitate or covet the gifts of others. The Raven uses his own unique gifts and talents to thrive, and is content in knowing who he is.
6. Humility - Dbaadendiziwin
The gift of Humility reminds us to be selfless, not selfish, and helps us to remain honest about who we are, our place in the community, and our impact on others. Humility also helps us to remain kind and humble, and to always compliment and uplift those around us.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of humility is the Wolf. For the Wolf, who lives and thrives in a pack, the worst thing in life would be to be outcast and alone. Because of this, the Wolf remains humble, staying in his place and avoiding selfishness for the benefit of his whole pack.
7. Truth - Debwewin
The gift of Truth helps us to remain sincere and honest in all we say and do, and allows us to act with bravery and wisdom in response to the many events life may throw our way. Truth allows us to be true to ourselves and to our surroundings and reminds us to be honest and open while we journey through life.
The Spirit Animal commonly used to represent the gift of truth is the Turtle. Because the Turtle was present during Creation, he holds the knowledge of all things including the importance of both the destination and the journey. The Turtle travels slowly and purposefully through life, always remaining true to himself and trusting what he knows to be right.
Using the 7 Grandfather Teachings
Balance and harmony are core tenants of Indigenous culture, and these values can be found in many other rituals, symbols, teachings, and beliefs. While each of the seven gifts has its own intrinsic and unique value, the seven teachings are not complete without one another, and must be used simultaneously in order to achieve a balanced spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental life.
Similar teachings can be found in symbols like the Medicine Wheel, which represents a variety of parts of Indigenous life from the Four Directions and the Four Sacred Medicines to the Four Elements and the Four States of Being. The Medicine Wheel helps to communicate lessons on finding a balance between all things, and emphasizes the need for a connection to all parts of the self.
When we focus on only one of the teachings, our feelings and lives experience imbalance, and we risk encountering the negative side of each of these teachings. Wisdom misused becomes ignorance. Humility, when forgotten, becomes pride. Courage, when neglected, becomes cowardice.
One of the many Indigenous traditions that help the individual to find inner balance is the practice of smudging. Smudging involves the burning of sacred herbs and medicines for the purpose of cleansing the mind, body, and spirit. Some people use smudging to help them to be mindful of their place in the world, their existence, their attitude, their emotions, and so on. In this way, smudging can be used to practice implementing the Seven Grandfather Teachings into your life, and can help you to solidify a personal connection to each of these gifts.
In everyday life, we also use the Seven Grandfather Teachings to help inform our decision making, for example, when talking to a friend. If you come upon a topic that you and your friend disagree on and are not sure how to respond, you simply have to look to the Grandfather Teachings. When responding to your friend, be sure to be wise by using your knowledge in your answer. Be loving by sharing your knowledge with your friend. Be respectful by hearing their point of view but also be brave and risk a disagreement by stating your opinion. Be honest and truthful, but never be afraid to be humble and admit when you are wrong.
To cherish knowledge is to know WISDOM
To know LOVE is to know peace
To honor all the creation is to have RESPECT
To face life with courage is to know BRAVERY.
To walk through life with integrity is to know HONESTY
HUMILITY is to know yourself as a sacred part of creation
TRUTH is to know all of these things.
Visit Tribal Trade Co. today and be sure to check out our Tribal Teachings Blog to learn more about Indigenous traditions.