By Selena MillsUpdated Jul 18, 2022
Illustrations: Aura and Chief Lady Bird
Like many parents, I want to guide my kids on a path to live the good life: spiritually connected and holistically healthy, connected to and respectful of all our relations. The Anishnaabe principles called the Seven Grandfather Teachings have become the foundation of my own daily parenting practices. Oral translations such as The Mishomis Book (by Ojibway educator Edward Benton-Banai), detail how the Creator, known as our collective grandfather, gave us our first mother, Mother Earth. That creator saw that humans needed morals to help one another and to remain respectful of our connection to, and reliance on all of creation, including our animal cousins. The animals woven into these lessons serve to remind us of our responsibilities as stewards of the environment and protectors of our first mother. And I share these lessons as stories and songs with my kids, as traditional practitioner and knowledge keeper Banakonda Kennedy Kish Bell has passed them onto me.
This series of guiding values are one of the most popular of Anishinaabe teachings, because they are relatable and encompass the kind of morals that all of humanity can aspire to sustain. And while expressions vary from nation to nation, the wisdom of these philosophies have spread across Turtle Island (North America), offering ways to enrich our lives and providing positive, playful examples of how to survive—and thrive—in this world, existing in peace and harmony with all of creation. My kids are fascinated with how our relations extend through all of creation. They are endlessly curious about the world around them, as all children are. As they’ve grown, I’ve surrounded them with the knowledge that much like the animals in the Seven Grandfather Teachings, all animals are our four-legged friends and we are reliant on them to survive, much like the water, the trees, the bees and all other plant life and organisms. (Except maybe flies. The jury’s still out on that one, although they do think it’s pretty cool that they can turn into maggots.)
I often make each teaching a story or tap into them when tackling tough situations as they arise at school, with peers or in our family dynamic. There’s opportunity every day to teach through story, song, and all of our relations in creation.
Nbwaakaawin: The Beaver
To cultivate knowledge is to know wisdom, which helps us make decisions that honour our well-being. This is represented by the beaver, who patiently uses his impressive teeth and creative mind to build sustainable communities. Be humble in knowing where you excel and what your limits are, and collaborate with others who have expertise you may lack.
Zaagidiwin: The Eagle
Unconditional love cannot be given without loving oneself, much like the eagle who soars high and carries these teachings from the Creator to share with her young. Educate yourself before you speak, consult with your mentors and your communities and love yourself enough to overcome difficulties.
Mnaadendimowin: The Buffalo
As long as we have walked the Earth, so have the buffalo, who have sacrificed themselves to give us warmth, food and shelter. To have respect is to honour all of creation. Balance what you need with what you want and recognize how your own greed may be at the expense of Mother Earth. Do what you can to make a difference and lead by example.
Aakwa’ode’ewin: The Bear
Awaken the warrior within by facing adversaries with integrity. We see these traits embodied in mother bears, who guide and protect their young with strength and a playful heart. Remember, you can’t take care of others without taking time for yourself first. Conquer fears so you can help those you love. Don’t forget the power of play and humour.
Gwekwaadziwin: The Raven
Facing a situation with truth, kindness and compassion is to walk with integrity. The raven, who uses his own cleverness to prosper, is a potent symbol of the power of honesty. Remain true to yourself, love and respect your own natural form.
Dbaadendiziwin: The Wolf
To know yourself and your gifts in a humble way is to set a good example for others in life, much like wolves who are devoted to their family. Uphold the power of love: Look for it everywhere and nurture it just as you would your children. To accept that we all need love to survive is to be truly humble.
Debwewin: The TurtleTo commit to these seven teachings and see them as fundamental values that complement each other is to know them within oneself, authentically. The turtle, who methodically walks the Earth as one of our eldest animals, reminds us of our teachings that proceed and survive all of time. Walk with these teachings; share these teachings from a true place of regard for their capacity to enrich our own lives and those who we encounter.Illustrations: Aura and Chief Lady Bird