Basic Teachings-7 Grandfather Teachings

Basic Teachings

7 Grandfather Teachings

The 7 Grandfather Teachings have so long been a part of Indigenous culture that no one remembers a time when they weren’t a part of our teachings.

Although there are variations of the animals used to represent and even in how the teaching is presented, the same 7 elements are common.


Information presented is only a small portion of the many and extensive teachings that exist. Teachings even vary from First Nation to First Nation and from one area of the country to another. For more information, please consult with a Traditional Elder, Healer, or Medicine Person.

These 7 guiding principles have been adopted by many Indigenous communities and organizations to be used as a moral stepping stone and a cultural foundation. A basic teaching place to start teaching the morals, values, structures, ceremonial practices, and spiritual beliefs of the group.

Each community adapts the teachings to suit their community values, however, they share the same concepts of abiding by a moral respect for all living things.

One Origin Story

According to the story, long ago, a messenger was sent to see how the Neshnabék were living. The messenger discovered that the Neshnabék were living their life in a negative way, which impacted their thoughts, decisions, and actions. Some had hate for others, displayed disrespectful actions, were afraid, told lies, and cheated. Others revealed pride or were full of shame. During his journey, the messenger came across a child. This child was chosen to be taught by the Seven Grandfathers to live a good life. He was taught the lessons of:

  • Love
  • Respect
  • Bravery
  • Truth
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Wisdom

Before departing from the Seven Grandfathers, they told him,

“Each of these teachings must be used with the rest. You cannot have Wisdom without Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth. You cannot be Honest if you are only using one of the other teachings. To leave out one teaching would be embracing the opposite of what the teaching means.”

The Seven Grandfathers each instructed the child with a principle. It was then up to the child to forget them, or to put them to use.

Today, each of us represents the child. We must faithfully apply the teachings of our Seven Grandfathers to our own lives. We must place our trust in the Creator. We must also never forget to be sincere in our actions, character, and words.

There is no right order to present these teachings as they are all intertwined:

Humility – Dbaadendiziwin

Humility is to know that we are a part of creation. We must always consider ourselves equal to one another. We are not better or worse than anyone else, we are equal.

Humility comes in many forms, including, compassion, calmness, meekness, gentleness, and patience. We must be thoughtful, reflective, and aware of the balance and equality with all of life, including humans, plants, and animals. Life live selflessly and not selfishly. Respect your place and carry your pride with your people and praise the accomplishments of all. Do not become arrogant and self-important.

Humility is represented by the wolf. The wolf lives for the betterment of his pack and the ultimate shame for a wolf is to be cast out of the pack.

Bravery – Aakwa’ode’ewin

Facing a problem with integrity is a true demonstration of bravery. Doing what is right even when the consequences may be unpleasant. It takes courage to face life and difficulties while standing tall during adversity. It means not trying to wiggle out of something just because the “i” isn’t dotted, or the “t” isn’t crossed. It is facing something with responsibility and doing what is right.

Bravery can also mean to defend what you believe in and what is right for your community, family, and yourself. Have conviction in your decisions, your thinking, and your speaking. All of these actions together will lead to ceaseless bravery.

Bravery is represented by the bear. The mother bear has the courage and strength to face her hears and challenges while protecting her young. The bear also shows us how to live a balanced life with rest, survival, and play.

Honesty – Gwekwaadziwin

Honesty begins within yourself. We must allow truth to be our guide. Being honest with yourself will allow you to be honest with others. Recognize and accept who you are. Accept and use the gifts that you have been given. Do not seek to deceive yourself of others. Walking with integrity is to know honesty.

Facing a difficult situation is to be brave. Courage is the act of doing the right thing. Honesty is also able to say the right thing, first to yourself and then to others. Do not deceive yourself or others. Be honest with yourself. Recognize and accept who you are. We must give full value to both the efforts of our own and others. When we walk through life with integrity, it is then that we know honesty. Be truthful and trustworthy. Remember to accept and act on truth through straightforward and appropriate communication.

Honesty is represented by either the raven or the sabe. They both understand who they are and how to walk in their life.

“Sabe reminds us to be ourselves and not someone we are not. An honest person is said to walk tall like Kitchi-Sabe… Like Kitchi-Sabe, Raven accepts himself and knows how to use his gift. He does not seek the power, speed or beauty of others. He uses what he has been given to survive and thrive. So must you.”

The Seven Sacred Teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman, by: David Bouchard & Dr. Joseph Martin

Wisdom – Nbwaakaawin

Wisdom is given to us by Creator to be used for good. We must remember to listen and use the wisdom that has been provided by our Elders, Tribal leadership, and our Spiritual leaders. We must always remember that Wisdom comes in all shapes, sizes, forms, and ages.

To know and cherish wisdom is to cherish knowledge or intelligence also. The mixture of these teachings, combined with life experiences, is what is referred to as wisdom. We must use sound judgment along with our ability to separate inner qualities and relationships. We must use a good sense and course of action to form a positive attitude.

Use your giftings wisely and live your life by them. Recognize your differences and those of others in a kind and respectful way. Continuously observe the life of all things around you. Listen with clarity and a sound mind. Respect your own limitations and those of all of your surroundings. Allow yourself to learn and live by your wisdom.

Wisdom is represented by the beaver because he uses his natural gift wisely for his survival. The beaver also alters his environment in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way for the benefit of his family.

Truth – Debwewin

Truth is having the knowledge of our cultural teachings. It gives us the ability to act without regret. We must understand, speak, and feel the truth, while also honoring its power.

Truth should not lead us to deceptions. We know who we are in our heart. By knowing that, we also know the truth. Our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual gifts will guide each one of us in our journey. Truth understands the importance of both the journey and the destination. Truth is to know all of these things.

Apply faith and trust in your teachings. Show honor and sincerity in all that you say and do. Understand your place in this life and apply that understanding in the way that you walk. Be true to yourself and all other things.

Truth is represented by the turtle as he was here during the creation of Earth and carries the teachings of life on his back. The turtle lives life in a slow and meticulous manner because he understands the importance of both the journey and the destination.

Respect – Mnaadendimowin

To have respect is to honour all of creation. There should be no part of creation that should be excluded from the honour we are to give. Do not be wasteful and be mindful of the balance of life for all living things. Share and give away what you do not need. Treat others they way you would like to be treated. Do not be hurtful to yourself or others.

We demonstrate respect by realizing the value of all people and things. Show courteous consideration and appreciation. We must give respect if we wish to be respected. We honour the traditional roles that we fill and the teaching we have been given. We honour our families and others, as well as ourselves. We are not to bring harm to anyone or anything. Respect if not just an action, but a heart-grown feeling.

Respect is represented by the buffalo. The buffalo gives every part of his being to sustain the human way of living, not because he is of less value, but because he respects the balance and needs of others.

Love – Zaagidiwin

Knowing love is to know peace. Love must be unconditional. For one to love and accept themselves is to live at peace with the Creator and in harmony with all of creation. View your inner-self from the perspective of all the teachings. This is to know love and to love yourself deeply. Then you will discover peace with yourself, the balance of life, all things, and with Creator.

To love others can be hard. However, when people are weak, that is when they need love the most. Love is strong affection for another. This love can form between friends and family. Love is also an attachment that is based upon devotion, admiration, tenderness, and kindness for all things around you. Love knows no bounds. We must accept love sincerely and give it away freely.

Love is represented by the eagle. He has the strength to carry all of the teachings. The eagle has the ability to fly the highest and closest to Creator. The eagle also has the eyesight to see all the ways of being from great distances. The eagle’s teaching of love can be found in the core of all the teachings, therefore, an eagle feather is considered the highest honour and a sacred gift.

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