Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times: The Seven Teachings
"We are invited once again to revisit the time honored Teachings, and to embrace the old ways in order to renew our connection to the Sacred Teachings. We need this old knowledge in our lives to live in these modern times of technology."
So began a PowerPoint presentation by Chi-Ma'iingan/Great Wolf (Larry Stillday)—aided by wife Violet—at the 8th Annual Drug and Gang Summit held at Seven Clans Casino and Event Center on February 11 to 13, 2014.
"A long time ago, we were given everything we need to live a good life," he said. "We are taught that we originated from the Earth and that the Earth is the Great Mother of all, She provides us with everything we need to survive in this life."
The Cycle of Life
"Everything was put in place for our earth walk," said Stillday. "Our earth walk begins when our spirit enters our physical body from the direction of the East. The traditional way of teaching was by example, experience and storytelling. Learning is a continuous process from birth to death."
Stillday says that there are many lessons we can learn from the natural world, because that’s where the Great Spirit put all the lessons we need to fulfill our earth walk. We were given everything to live a good life.
"When we put our frame of reference of thinking on our Earth Mother, and look deep into nature, we have a better understanding of everything," he said. "When we connect with the 'animal guides,' they help us to be a better person, and to be healthier spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. This enables us to see the world…and everything in it…with clarity and better understanding. We need to plug into the earth!"
"The Circle is one of the strongest symbols in nature," declared Chi-Ma'iingan, "and symbolism is a powerful language, that we were given to understand and communicate, with spiritual concepts and truths. Our Ancestors always engaged in ceremonies as a way of honoring all of life; they thrived on symbolism to help them see the world in terms of circles and cycles. Like them, we too can use the same frame-work of symbolism to incorporate the circular and spiral energies."
"The Medicine Wheel is the symbol we use to express and represent the meaning of life, and meaning provides us with purpose and understanding. The symbol of the circle holds a special place of importance in our belief system. There is no hierarchy in a circle, it's about equality."
Ceremonies Are Our First Duty
"The greatest wisdom is in simplicity." he said. "It is not complex or elaborate and is encoded in our DNA. Everything we need is within, therefore we are programed for ceremonies and rituals, which is our inheritance from our Ancestors.
When we quit doing our ceremony something else comes in, fills the gap. But when we engage in our ceremonies, we awaken and affirm our innate wisdom and we invoke our ability to heal mind, body, heart and spirit. We are born into the natural rhythm of the Universe…and Mother Earth…which connects us with our own natural rhythm, and with Nature. The great teachers have always said, 'when we find our heart, we will find our way.'"
"For us to live Mino-Bimaadiziwin (the Good Life), we need to return to the Teachings and our way of understanding. The Mino-Bimaadiziwin Principles provide the outline of what it means to live and learn as Anishinaabeg," declared Stillday.
The Seven Natural Laws of Life, also called the Seven Grandfather Teachings
Stillday says that the Aadizookaanaan (Sacred Stories) tell us the Great Spirit gave the Seven Grandfathers…who are very powerful spirits…the responsibility to watch over the people.
"The Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers were given to us early in our history. They are teachings about human conduct towards others," said Stillday. "The teachings are important and have long been a part of our language. They have been handed down to us through generations. They are gifts or blueprints for living a good life. Each teaching is a gift of knowledge for the learning of values and living by those values. They were given to us in order to develop the spiritual aspect of self, and to teach us the importance for understanding who we are. The teachings were then, and still are, what we need for our families and our communities to survive and thrive."
"All of our feelings, thoughts and actions are a combination of one or more…or even all…of the Seven Teachings," said Stillday. "The Teachings remind us of the need for balance in the world, and the balance we must strive for everyday within ourselves. The teachings offer direction for all who wish to have a balanced and peaceful life."
"Our wisdom keepers say, we are to use all these laws together in our lives and NOT to pick and choose between them," said Stillday, "because to pick and choose one, will only work the opposite way of what is intended. When we break one law, we break all of them because they all work together in balance. When we break one law of the Great Spirit we not only break the law with the Great Spirit, we break the law with our selves, our families and our communities."
"Each law honors the basic virtue necessary for a full and healthy life. The teachings honor spiritual laws that help us connect to the land," he said.
Each Teaching Is Represented by an Animal
"The Seven Grandfather Teachings are Intended to work in a Circle, equally together," said Stillday. "The Circle has always been an important part of our everyday lives. Everyone and everything in the circle is equal, as well as interconnected, which helps us to have a strong sense of family and community."
"The teachings emphasize the importance of respect for all," says Stillday. "Animals are here to help man. The animals taught us how to live close to the earth…and that connection we have with them…instilled the respect for all of life. Each animal offers a special gift and understanding of how we are to live our lives on Mother Earth."
Nbwaakaawin (Wisdom) Is Represented by Amik (Beaver)
Amik represents determination, strong will, a gatherer and accomplishment. To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. We were given Wisdom in order to better our lives through knowledge. To know Wisdom is to know that the Great Spirit gave everyone special gifts to be used to build a strong family and a healthy community. Developing a strong family and a community is entirely dependent on the gifts given to each individual by the Great Spirit, and how we use those gifts.
Amik uses its sharp teeth to cut trees and branches to build dams. This is a gift it received from the Creator. Amik teaches us the lesson of Wisdom in the way it uses its teeth or gift to build its lodges for its family; if it doesn’t use its teeth, they will continue to grow and become useless, making it difficult to sustain its life. It is the same way for us. If we let our own spirit go weak, it will not be able to fulfil its use. Like the beaver if we use our gifts properly, they will greatly contribute to the development of a healthy family and community.
Zaagiidiwin (Love) Is Represented by the Migizi (Bald Eagle)
Migizi was chosen by the Great Spirit to represent this teaching. To know true Love is to know the Great Spirit. To have Love is to know peace. The Love we give the Great Spirit is expressed through the love of one’s self. It has been said that if you don't love yourself, you cannot love others.
Love is something we must have because our spirit feeds on it; without it we become weak, our self-esteem becomes weak. Without Love our courage fails, and without Love we will not be able to look at the world with confidence. But with Love, we are creative, and live with endless energy, and with it…and it alone…we are more able to sacrifice for others.
Minaadendimowin (Respect) Is Represented by Mashkode Bizhiki (Buffalo/Bison)
To honor all of Creation is to have Respect. The attributes of the Mashkode Bizhiki are: Sacredness, abundance, stamina, sacrifice and provider. The giving of its life showed the deep Respect it had for the people. Its gift provided shelter, clothing, and utensils for daily living. It established a sustainable relationship resulting in an expression of True Respect.
The essence of respect is to give. To show respect to life is to give of yourself. You must give respect if you wish to be respected. Accepting everyone without judgment is the way respecting the Great Spirit works.
Aakwade’ewin (Bravery or Courage) Is Represented by Makwa (Bear)
Bravery is facing the most difficult situation with integrity. Although gentle by nature, Makwa will become ferocious if her cubs are approached which teaches a true definition of Bravery. Makwa teaches us the lesson that, in order to have the mental and moral strength to overcome our fears, that prevent us from living our true spirit…is the greatest challenge we must meet. It must be met with the same intensity as the mother bear protecting her cubs. Living of the heart and spirit is difficult, but Makwa’s example shows us how to face danger to achieve our goals.
Makwa represents Courage through its strength and natural ability to overcome the challenges it faces. A mother bear will stand up against a much stronger male bear or other threats to protect her cubs. Just as the bear hibernates during the winter and awakes in the spring, we too need rest and rejuvenation. Makwa teaches us the lesson about how to live a balanced life, and a time to be playful and a time to be assertive and courageous. Makwa calls us to awaken our full potential and to stand up for what we believe.
Gwekwaadizwin (Honesty) Is Represented by Masabe (Sasquatch or Big Foot)
Masabe represents the essence of Honesty. Masabe reminds us about the importance of being Honest with each other, and Honesty in facing difficult situations bravely. To be truly Honest is to keep the promises made to the Great Spirit, to others, and to one’s self.
Honesty means being an honorable person free of fraud and deception. The Elders say: “The highest honor that can be given to a person is someone saying, ‘there goes an Honest person who can be trusted.’”
Dabbadendiziwin (Humility) Is Represented by Ma'iingan (Wolf)
Humility is to know yourself as a Sacred part of Creation. Ma'iingan represents loyalty, perseverance and intuition. Recognizing and acknowledging there is a power greater than ourselves is to be truly Humble. The expression of Humility is shown through the consideration of others before ourselves. We are to never consider ourselves to be superior or inferior to anyone.
In nature, Ma'iingan is the teacher of Humility. Ma'iingan will bow its head, not out of fear but out of Humbleness, in our presence. When Ma'iingan hunts for food, it will take it back to the den for the others before it eats. Each Ma'iingan has a place in the whole and yet maintains its individual personality.
Debwewin (Truth) Is Represented by Mikinaak (Turtle)
To know Truth is to know and understand all seven of the original Grandfather Teachings and remain faithful to all of them. The shell of Mikinaak represents the body of real events as created by the Great Spirit, and serves as a reminder of the Creator’s will and teachings.
There are 13 markings on the back of Mikinaak which represent the 13 moons, which represents the Truth of one cycle of the earth’s rotation around the sun, and the four seasons. There are also 28 markings that represent the cycle of one moon. Mikinaak was present at the time the Seven Grandfather Teachings were given. It is Mikinaak's responsibility to ensure that they will never be lost or forgotten.
How Do We Live Right?
"The teachings are not ancient, they never went away, so we ask…who moved? We need these Teachings now more than ever. Following the Teachings leads to well-being and onto a good path in life. The Wisdom Keepers say, to heal the Nation we must first heal the individual, family then community. And it's for anybody and everybody."
"The teachings are meant to work together, that's why they are in a Circle. If they were linear, they become a memory. When we break one heart, we break them all, as they are interconnected. If you don't have balance, you are part of the problem, because it's an interconnected system. The Teachings help us find that balance."
"The Spirits come out at certain times of the year, they look to the left and to the right. They are looking for ceremony. They come back to see if we are awake. We need the medicine of 'living right.' Manidoog are looking for the ceremony by the Lake. When they see that, that's when the teaching comes."