The Gifts of the Seven Grandfathers

Origins

Many Anishinaabeg view the Seven Grandfather Teachings as traditional knowledge that collectively represents what is needed for community survival. The origin of the teachings is unknown but elders confirm these are important verbs that have long been a part of the language. These fundamental teachings became widely known as the “Seven Grandfathers” when the Anishinaabeg slowly began to control their own education during and after the American Indian Movement. As elders began to retell stories they heard as children they connected the present to a past when these values were both a part of ceremonies and everyday life. Regardless of how they came to be used together, when they now appear in a circle they symbolize much of what defines Minobimaadizi / Living Well.

 

As Principles for Living

Each Grandfather Teaching is a gift the Anishinaabeg carry, a potential tool for living a good life. Our understanding is that as we use these gifts our experience of living improves. Using these gifts in our lives is an ongoing challenge for each of us, requiring attention, discipline and perseverance.

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1. Minwaadendamowin – Respect

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Chipiitenim g’wiijibimaadiziig gegwa dabasen’aake.
Place others before yourself in your life don’t look down on anyone.

G’minwaadenmaag g’wiijibimaadiziig.
Respect your fellow living beings.

 

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2. Zaagidiwin – Love

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Niintam ga zaagidiz jibwa zaagaag goya bekaanzid
It is my turn, I have to love myself before I can love anyone different

miidash ji maajtaayaamba ji biindaganaag bimaadiziwining.
then I will be able to start to bring that person into my life.

 

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3. Debwewin – Truth

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Ke ganawaamdizan goya jibwa dibaakanad ezhi-bimosed.
You have to look at yourself before you judge an other’s way of walking.

G’debwetaanan ina nindan giikamowewinan?
Do you believe in these philosophies?

 

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4. Aakodewewin – Bravery

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Noongwa wii mshkowendamiing miinwaa wii mshkogaabwiiying manjiidig waa zhiwebadagwe.
Right now to hold firm thoughts and strongly stand when you don’t know what will happen.

Hold firm in your thoughts and stand strong even when you don’t know what will happen right now.

 

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5. Nibwaakawin – Wisdom

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Nibwaakawin n’ga shkitoon wii gwektaagoziyaanh miinwaa wii minodaapanamaa goya e-kidod.
Wisdom I am able to speak well and to take well (what) someone says.

Wisdom allows me to eloquently and correctly interpret others ideas.

 

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6. Miigwe’aadiziwin – Generosity

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Shkitamaawin e-yaaman miinwaa miigwewaadiziwin gdaasawenmaagen.
Ability you have and generosity to disperse to others
You have the ability to give things away and distribute what you have.

Aasagaabwichigewin / Aankenmaagewin / Naakwenmaagewin – Generosity
Standing together / Transferring / Responding to needs

 

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7. Dibaadendiziwin – Humility

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Dibaadenim g’wiijibimaadiz waa ezhi wiijsemad.
Be humble you walk with yourself to the way you walk with someone.

Humble yourself to your fellow human in the way you walk with him or her.

 

Using the Gifts

We use these gifts everyday. They work best when used together. For instance, if Sally asks what you think of her new dress, and you think the color is nice but the shape is awful, you have some choices: You could be untruthful, take the easy way out and say, “It looks great.” That wouldn’t be honest and it wouldn’t be helping her. If she thinks it looks “great” she may wear it when she wants to look really good and be disappointed later. You could also use the Gifts and say, “That color is perfect for you but I think some of your other dresses do more justice to your figure.” In this situation you would use honesty to tell the truth, generosity to tell her the good points of the dress, courage to risk hurting her feelings with the hope of doing less harm than avoiding the truth, respect to be careful of her feelings, humility to think of her needs before your own wish for an easy response, wisdom to see the larger picture, and love to care about how things will unfold for her around the dress.

According to Dominic Eshkakogan, “Each of these teachings must be used with the rest… to leave out one is to embrace the opposite of what that teaching is.”

The Seven Grandfather teachings depicted on a shield:

The Seven Grandfather teachings depicted on a shield.

The Seven Grandfather teachings depicted on a shield. Click on the image to see a larger version.

The "Seven Rascals" on the opposite side of the shield.

The “Seven Rascals” on the opposite side of the shield. Click on the image to see a larger version.

 

In Anishinaabe Art Today

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

The painting “The Circle of Life” by Odawa artist and poet, Zoey Wood Salomon captures the Anishinaabe perspective of cycles in balance, a worldview where the gifts of light, lessons, earth, animals and knowledge are part of one continuum.

Zoey writes, “The people of the fires are symbolized by our seven grandmother/grandfather teachings of love, respect, honesty, bravery, humility, truth, and wisdom. Three fires also remind us to maintain balance in our body, our mind, and our spirit.”

Learn more about Zoey’s work >

 

Reflection

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Print out the Seven Grandfathers Worksheet (PDF) and for each teaching, draw what it means for you.

How would your drawings have changed over time?

 

Sources

1. Nishinaabe Bimiiadziwin Kinoomaadwinan: Teachings of the Medicine Wheel; Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, Dominic Eshkakogan
2. The shields in the photos were created by Marsha Traxler Reeves under the instruction of Wilma Henry.