12 Seven Grandfather Teachings

Leland Bell’s painting of the Seven Grandfathers.

There are many versions of these seven teachings across Turtle Island. Here we have called them the Seven Grandfather Teachings; they are also sometimes referred to as the Seven Grandmother Teachings or the Seven Sacred Teachings. Nations and communities may use differing stories to impart these teachings, but the same guiding principles and morals can be found in all.

Wisdom – Beaver

The teaching of wisdom is taught to us by the beaver. Beavers use their teeth to cut trees and build dams; in doing this they have a positive impact on their community (the nature around them), their family (who live in the dam), and themselves (by finding purpose and health in doing what they are meant to do). The beaver reminds us that we all have gifts and a purpose in this world. It is through the love of knowledge that we find wisdom.

Bravery/Courage – Bear

The teaching of bravery is taught to us by the bear. Bears are known to confront threats they should be fearful of, especially female bears who will protect their cubs against larger bears and other dangers. The bear also reminds us to be playful and to rest when needed. It is in the balance of these teachings that we are taught when to be courageous. 


Honesty – Sabe/Raven

The teaching of honesty is taught to us by Sabe or sometimes the raven. Sabe is believed to be closer to the spirit world than humans and reminds us, just as the raven does, that we must be truthful to who we are. The Ojibwa expression Kitchi-Sabe means to walk tall, or to have integrity. It is only by being honest that we can have integrity.




Respect – Buffalo

The teaching of respect is taught to us by the buffalo. The buffalo provided Indigenous Peoples with everything they needed to survive: hides for warmth and shelter, meat for eating, muscle for sinew, and bones for tools. The buffalo reminds us to respect all living things, and in doing so we achieve a balance that keeps us alive.

Truth – Turtle

The teaching of truth is taught to us by the turtle. The turtle was here when all life was created and carries teachings related to the beginning of life on its back. There are 28 scutes around the perimeter of a turtle shell; these represent the 28 days of a woman’s menstrual cycle, which is key to the creation of life. There are 13 scutes in the centre of a turtle shell; these represent the 13 moons and the 13 times the Earth circles the sun each year.


Humility – Wolf

The teaching of humility is taught to us by the wolf. The wolf is strong and powerful alone, but finds its greatest strength when part of a pack. Wolves are known to remain with packs for life, raising pups while protecting the group’s well-being. The wolf teaches us that humility imparts strength to families and communities.

Love – Eagle

The teaching of love is found in all of the other teachings. It is the eagle who mirrors these lessons back to us. The eagle is strong enough to carry all of the teachings and flies high enough to see all of creation. When we live by these teachings and see ourselves as the eagle does, we are able to love who we are. And once we have found that balance within, we can provide love to our family and community. For this reason, the eagle feather is one of the most sacred items and must be earned.


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