The narrative in this section is structured around the First Nations cycle of life as understood from the traditional perspective of the Anishinaabe. The discussion is broken down into the eight stages of the life cycle and the seven phases of life and has been adapted from the 2010 Best Start Resource Centre document A Child Becomes Strong: Journeying Through Each Stage of the Life Cycle. The information provided in this section is in no way exhaustive; it is meant to act as a guide for the reader to navigate the common elements found in a diverse set of rich and complex cultural teachings that form a part of the larger First Nations world view.
Indigenous Life Cycle
First Peoples have traditionally utilized tools and knowledge from their natural environment to teach lessons within their communities. These cultural tools help First Peoples pass on essential teachings to their community members in a relevant and culturally interconnected way (Best Start Resource Centre, 2010). Many of these teachings are connected to or based upon an understanding of the four directions and the various medicine wheels discussed in this etextbook. Across Turtle Island, the details of the medicine wheel and four directions teachings may differ, but often the messages are similar (Four Directions Teachings, 2015), and we can connect them to the theme of the circle that is ever-present in Indigenous world view.
The wheel or circle (the round shape) traditionally represents the following: Earth, sun and moon, seasons, the four directions, the four parts of the self: mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual, the interconnectedness of people, and the cycle of life (Best Start Resource Centre, 2010).
Within the framework of the circle, all elements connect with and relate to one another. For this discussion, we will specifically focus on the cycle of life, in particular the eight stages of the cycle of life and the seven phases of life embedded in it.
It is important to note that the eight stages of the life cycle are different from the seven phases of life as understood by First Nations, although these stages and phases often overlap. The duration of the eight stages of life is more defined, while the seven phases of life are less uniform in length and timing, and open to greater interpretation by the individual (Best Start Resource Centre, 2010).
The Eight Stages of the Life Cycle
The eight stages of the life cycle are: infant, toddler, child, youth, young adult, parent, grandparent, and elder/traditional teacher.
For each stage, there are teachings about healthy development, traditional milestones, and the role that a person has within their family and community (Best Start Resource Centre, 2010).
The Seven Phases of Life
The seven phases of life differ from the eight stages in that they specifically focus on the spiritual journey of a person (Best Start Resource Centre, 2010).
Each of these phases emphasizes the journey of self-discovery and fulfilling one’s life purpose within an Indigenous framework. These phases often overlap. It is not uncommon for a person to enter or exit one of these phases at a completely different time than a family member or peer of the same age. The seven phases of life are: the good life, the fast life, the wandering and wondering life, the stages of truth, planting and planning, doing, the elder and giving back life (Best Start Resource Centre, 2010).
Best Start Resource Centre. (2010). A child becomes strong: Journeying through each stage of the life cycle [PDF]. Toronto, Ontario. pp. 1-54.
Four directions teachings. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.fourdirectionsteachings.com/
Media (in order of appearance)
Artist Joseph Sagaj, citizen of Neskantaga First Nation, standing in front of his paintings, the Seven Stages of Life, commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Toronto [photograph]. (2017). Retrieved from http://anishinabeknews.ca/2017/11/21/the-anishinawbe-way-of-life-depicted-in-paintings/