According to Benton-Banai (1988), the Seven Grandfather Teachings form the foundation of an Indigenous way of life. Key concepts of respect and sharing are built into the Seven Grandfather Teachings. There are many versions of the Seven Grandfather Teachings. The following is a shortened version of the teachings as recounted by Benton-Banai (1988).
According to Benton-Banai (1988), the Creator gave the seven grandfathers the responsibility to watch over the people. In this recounting of the story, the seven grandfathers, seeing that the people were living a hard life, sent a messenger down to the earth to find someone who could tell what Ojibway life should be and bring him back. The messenger searched all directions – North, South, West and East – but could not find anyone. Finally, on the seventh try, the messenger found a baby and brought him back to where the grandfathers were sitting in a circle. The grandfathers, happy with the messenger’s choice, instructed him to take him all around the earth so the baby could learn how the Ojibway should lead their lives. They were gone for seven years. Upon his return, as a young man, the grandfathers, recognizing the boy’s honesty, gave him seven teachings that he could take with him. They are as follows: Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom; Zaagi’idiwin—Love; Minaadendamowin—Respect; Aakode’ewin—Bravery; Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty; Dabaadendiziwin—Humility; and Debwewin—Truth.
Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom: Wisdom, a gift from the Creator, is to be used for the good of the people. The term “wisdom” can also be interpreted to mean “prudence” or “intelligence.” This means that we must use good judgement or common sense when dealing with important matters. We need to consider how our actions will affect the next seven generations. Wisdom is sometimes equated with intelligence. Intelligence develops over time. We seek out the guidance of our Elders because we perceive them to be intelligent; in other words, they have the ability to draw on their knowledge and life skills in order to provide guidance.
Zaagi’idiwin—Love: Love is one of the greatest teachers. It is one of the hardest teachings to demonstrate especially if we are hurt. Benton-Banai (1988) states that “To know Love is to know peace.” Being able to demonstrate love means that we must first love ourselves before we can show love to someone else. Love is unconditional; it must be given freely. Those who are able to demonstrate love in this way are at peace with themselves. When we give love freely it comes back to us. In this way love is mutual and reciprocal.
Minaadendamowin—Respect: One of the teachings around respect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. When we meet someone for the first time we form an impression of them. That first impression is not based on respect. Respect develops when one takes the time to establish a deeper relationship with the other. This concept of respect extends to all of creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal – in order to receive respect one must give respect.
Aakode’ewin—Bravery: Benton-Banai (1988) states that “Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.” This simply means that we need to be brave in order to do the right thing even if the consequences are unpleasant. It is easy to turn a blind eye when we see something that is not right. It is harder to speak up and address concerns for fear of being retaliated against. Often times, one does not want to ‘rock the boat.’ It takes moral courage to be able to stand up for those things that are not right.
Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty: It takes bravery to be honest in our words and actions. One needs to be honest first and foremost with oneself. Practicing honesty with oneself makes it easier to be honest with others.
Dabaadendiziwin—Humility: As Indigenous people we understand our relationship to all of creation. Humility is to know your place within Creation and to know that all forms of life are equally important. We need to show compassion (care and concern) for all of creation.
Debwewin—Truth: “Truth is to know all of these things” (Benton-Banai, 1988). All of these teachings go hand in hand. For example, to have wisdom one must demonstrate love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth. You are not being honest with yourself if you use only one or two of these teachings. Leaving out even one of these teachings means that one is not embracing the teachings. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive yourself or others.
Just as the boy was instructed to learn these teachings and to share them with all the people, we also need to share these teachings and demonstrate how to live that good, healthy life by following the seven grandfather teachings..
- The Seven Grandfather teachings are: Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth. Reflect on what you have learned through each chapter in this open textbook. Write a brief description of what these teachings represent or mean to you.
- As you think about the connections with the world around you, explore your connections and the inter-relations between them.
- What does reconciliation mean to you?
Expanding Your Knowledge
The following website contains information about the Ojibwe teachings on the seven grandfathers. There are also additional resources listed at the bottom of the page that you can explore to learn more about the seven grandfather teachings.