“Woman is the centre of the wheel of life. She is the heartbeat of the people. She is not just in the home, but she is the community, she is the Nation.
One of our Grandmothers.
The woman is the foundation on which Nations are built. She is the heart of her Nation. If that heart is weak the people are weak. If her heart is strong and her mind is clear then the Nation is strong and knows its purpose. The woman is the centre of everything.” — Art Solomon (Ojibwe), “Kesheyanakwan” (Fast Moving Cloud), Anishinaabe Elder.
“It is time for women to pick up their medicine and help heal a troubled world.” — Art Solomon (Ojibwe), “Kesheyanakwan” (Fast Moving Cloud), Anishinaabe Elder.
“The traditional way of education was by example, experience, and storytelling. The first principle involved was total respect and acceptance of the one to be taught, and that learning was a continuous process from birth to death. It was total continuity without interruption. Its nature was like a fountain that gives many colours and flavours of water and that whoever chose could drink as much or as little as they wanted to whenever they wished. The teaching strictly adhered to the sacredness of life whether of humans, animals or plants.” – Art Solomon, Anishinaabe Elder
“There comes a time when we must stop crying and wringing our hands and get on with the healing that we are so much in need of” –Art Solomon, Anishinaabe Elder
“Grandfather, Look at our brokenness. We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the sacred way. We know that we are the ones who are divided and we are the ones who must come back together to walk in the sacred way. Grandfather, Sacred One, Teach us love, compassion and honour that we may heal the Earth and each other.” – Art Solomon, Anishinaabe Elder
In other words of Art Solomon, an Anishinaabe elder: “To heal a nation, we must first heal the individuals, the families and the communities.”
The closing words of Elder Art Solomon at a conference at University of Sudbury in 1992 were:
“We listened to three women yesterday. What they had to say tells me that spiritual rebirth is happening; spiritual rebirth is absolutely essential. The imperative for us now, as Native people, is to heal our communities, and heal our nations, because we are the final teachers in this sacred land. We have to teach how to live in harmony with each other and with the whole creation. People will have to put down their greed and arrogance before they can hear what we are saying. I am not sure how many will do that. So we are in the process of healing ourselves, healing our communities, and healing our nations.”
Art also once explained:
“I am a craftsman and I know that the craftsman puts something of himself into everything he makes. … The Hopis say that the Creator was the first worker. And since he is perfect, what he has made expresses his perfection. He is in it…”
A passage from Art Solomon’s book, Songs for the People: Teachings on the Natural Way (NC Press) describes Aboriginal society prior to the arrival of Europeans:
“We were not perfect, but we had no jails, we had no taxes…no wine and no beer, no old peoples’ homes, no children’s aid society, we had no crisis centres. We had a philosophy of life based on the Creator. We had our humanity.”
Art Solomon was the eldest of ten children born to a French Canadian mother and Ojibway father in the Killarney region of Georgian Bay, and attended Roman Catholic residential schools.
Art shared some of his experience while teaching in the Native Studies Department at Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario:
“You were just a kid doing a man’s work. You know, we had to stand by that blacksmith fire well past what was reasonable or tolerable for children. We were kids, just like little Indian slaves. There was no one to comfort you or show you any care. For God’s sake, I couldn’t even see my sisters because they were all together, in another building. And, we, my sisters and brother were separated by the road between us. We could only go home once a year, maybe at Christmas, if we were lucky enough to have some one who was able to come. My Mother had nine of us and she sure as hell couldn’t leave her babies for us bigger ones. There was no money in those days. It was in the time of the First World War. My father couldn’t come because he was a lumberjack working in the bush. That was the season he had to do the cutting in. During the summer, he was a fishing guide, a deep sea fisher man and a sailor who would go by train to Minneapolis and Detroit to pick up the boats of the wealthy Americans who were coming to Killarney, on the Georgian Bay (of Lake Huron). There was lots of fish in the big waters (Lake Ontario and Lake Superior). It was a really hard time, those days. And that stuff stays with you. You learned it in your early childhood. It was really all you knew; the earlier stuff you forgot out of fear. Then we are left with trying how to figure it out on our own. It was very hard on my mother. We were a big help to her when we came home. But all that changed when they came back in August to take us away. That’s all I have to say about it”.
Art wrote the following:
A Song for the People
Grandfather, Great Spirit I give you thanks That we can sit here In this circle of Life, We send Prayers And the very best thoughts
Grandmother Great Spirit As we raise this sacred pipe To give thanks to you And to all of your Creation, We give thanks To the spirit helpers Who came and sat among us.
Grandfather, Most sacred one, These are your prayers That we send to you As we sit here together and pray
Grandmother your children are crying. Grandfather your children are dying. The hands of greed And the hands of lust for power Have been laid on them And all around is death and desolation The gifts you made, for all your children Stolen, And laid to waste In a monstrous desecration.
Grandmother Great Spirit, As we sit and pray together We send you this prayer of affirmation- We your children whom you created in your likeness and image- We will reach out, And we will dry our tears And heal the hurts of each other. Our sisters and brothers are hurting bad, And our children, they see no future.
We know Grandfather, that you gave us a sacred power, But it seems like we don’t know its purpose So now we’ve learned as we sat together, The name of that power is love, Invincible, irresistible, overwhelming power, This power you gave us we are going to use, We’ll dry the tears of those who cry And heal the hurts of them that are hurting.
Yes Grandmother, We’ll give you our hands And in our hearts and minds and bodies We dedicate our lives to affirmation. We will not wait nor hesitate, As we walk on this sacred earth We will learn together to celebrate The ways of peace, and harmony, and tranquillity, That come, And in the world around us. Thank you Grandfather for this prayer.
From Eating Bitterness: A Vision From Beyond The Prison Walls by Art Solomon (who worked so actively on behalf of Native peoples in the prisons):
“When Christopher Columbus landed in North America not one Native person was in prison, because there were no prisons. We had laws and order because law was written in the hearts and minds and souls of the people and when justice had to be applied it was tempered with mercy. The laws came from the ceremonies which were given by the spirit people, the invisible ones. As a people we were less than perfect as all other people are, but we had no prisons because we didn’t need them. We knew how to live and we also knew how not to live.”
To quote Art Solomon again:
“Native people feel they have lost something and they want it back. It doesn’t necessarily mean that when I talk about going back over there, that we stay over there. You have to get those teachings and pick up those things that we left along the way. The drums, the language, the songs are all scattered around. We need to bring them into this time. You need these things to teach your children today in order to give them that direction and good feelings about who they are. They need to know where they are going. It doesn’t mean we have to go back to living in teepees. You can be a traditionalist and be comfortable wherever you are.”
“The Elder knows where the land is solid. He has been on that other path and found the way back to the good one. He can help others get there.” – Art Solomon
Chief Dan George
When Christ said that man does not live by bread alone, he spoke of a hunger. This hunger was not the hunger of the body. It was not the hunger for bread. He spoke of a hunger that begins deep down in the very depths of our being. He spoke of a need as vital as breath. He spoke of our hunger for love.
Love is something you and I must have. We must have it because our spirit feeds upon it. We must have it because without it we become weak and faint. Without love our self-esteem weakens. Without it our courage fails. Without love we can no longer look out confidently at the world…
But with love, we are creative. With it, we march tirelessly. With it, and with it alone, we are able to sacrifice for others. – Chief Dan George
The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, speaks to me.
The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me.
The strength of the fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me. And my heart soars. – Chief Dan George
May the stars carry your sadness away, May the flowers fill your heart with beauty, May hope forever wipe away your tears, And, above all, may silence make you strong. – Chief Dan George
Other Native Quotes
What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the Sunset. — Crowfoot
Is not the sky a father and the earth a mother, and are not all living things with feet or wings or roots their children? — Black Elk (Medicine man of the Lakota (Sioux)
Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! — Black Elk (Medicine man of the Lakota (Sioux)
The Circle of Life
You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round. In the old days, when we were a strong and happy people, all our power came to us from the sacred hoop of the nation and so long as the hoop was unbroken, the people flourished.
The flowering tree was the living centre of the hoop and the circle of the four quarters nourished it. The East gave peace and light, the South gave warmth, The West gave rain and the North, with its cold and mighty wind gave strength and endurance. This knowledge came to us from the outer world with our religion. Everything the Power of the World does, is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard the earth is round like a ball and so are the stars. The Wind, in its greatest power whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing and always come back again to where they were. The life of man is a circle from childhood to childhood and so it is in everything where power moves. Our Teepees were round like the nests of birds and these were always set in a circle, the nation ‘s hoop, a nest of many nests where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children. ” – (Black Elk Speaks, pp. 198-200) Spiritual Advisor to the Oglala Sioux in 1930.
Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beheath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy… — Black Elk (Medicine man of the Lakota (Sioux)
Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World. — Black Elk
We love quiet; we suffer the mouse to play; when the woods are rustled by the wind, we fear not. – Indian Chief, 1796, to the governor of Pennsylvania
I have learned a lot from trees;
Sometimes about the weather,
Sometimes about animals,
Sometimes about the Great Spirits. — Tatanga Mani “Walking Buffalo” (Chief of the Nakoda, medicine man, naturalist, and peace advocate)
Hold on to what is good, even if it’s a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here. Hold on to your life, even if it’s easier to let go. Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone away from you. — A Pueblo Indian Prayer
To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. — Chief Seattle, 1855, upon surrendering his land to Governor Isaac Stevens
There is no quiet place in white man’s cities. No place to hear the unfurling of leaves in the Spring or the rustle of an insect’s wings. — Chief Seattle
You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of our grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our childresn–that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.
This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself… — Chief Seattle
The old Lakota was wise, He knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. — Luther Standing Bear (Native American author)
The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred Earth. Their tipis were built upon the earth and their altars were made of earth. The birds that flew into the air came to rest upon the earth and it was the final abiding place of all things that lived and grew. The soil was soothing, strengthening, cleansing and healing. – Luther Standing Bear (Native American author), from Land of the Spotted Eagle
We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangled growth, as “wild.” Only to the white man was nature a “wilderness” and only to him was the land “infested” with “wild” animals and “savage” people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it “wild” for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was that for us the “Wild West” began. — Luther Standing Bear (Native American author)
Once in a while you find a place on earth that becomes your very own. A place undefined. Waiting for you to bring your color, your self. A place untouched, unspoiled, undeveloped. Raw, honest, and haunting. No one, nothing is telling you how to feel or who to be. Let the mountains have you for a day… — Sundance
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. — Unknown, Haida Indian Saying
Eagles And Egle Feathers
The Eagle (Migizi in Ojibway) holds a very special place for Native peoples. The Eagle soared so high in the heavens that Native peoples held it in high esteem since it was so much closer to the Creator. The Eagle became a power of vision, strength and courage. There are many special meanings and special uses for the Eagle.
Many Native teachings explain that Eagle is the Principle Messenger of Creator. Eagle flies the closest to Creator and, therefore, can see the past, present and future at a glance. Eagle sees the flow of change. Eagle alerts us to the changes so that we can respond appropriately. Eagle is the great illuminator and soars above us all, sometimes out of sight to us, but never out of its own sight. Eagle sees and hears all and sits in the east on the Medicine Wheel with the direction of leadership and courage.
In other words, Eagle is connected both to the spirit of Great Mystery and to the Earth and does both with ease. Eagle, therefore, is a powerful symbol of courage; that is why its feathers are such powerful tools for healing, and why there are special ceremonies for Eagle feathers. Eagle teaches us that it is okay to combine wisdom and courage — it is okay to be wise enough to know that a change needs to be made in one’s life and then finding the courage to execute the change.
A gift of an Eagle Feather is a great honor. It is a mark of distinction, one that could indicate that a rite of passage has been earned. The Eagle Feather represents the norms, responsibilities and behaviors that are all a part of the conditioning, learning and commitment to a spirit. It is in this way that life is honored and becomes whole.
The quill of an Eagle Feather represents stability, strength and foundation. In the Cycle of Life or wheel of life, it represents the spirituality of the people. This is where the beginning and ending meet. The quill represents the beginning and ending in the spiritual journey of life. Birth and death are represented here as rites of passage from and to the spiritual world. Conception, the nine month journey and childbirth are sacred and begin here. Traditionally, there were ceremonies or celebrations for the beginning of life.
The plume of an Eagle Feather or fluff is white, billowy and soft. It represents the purity, lightness and gentleness of a child full of the spirit and so new to the cycle of life. The plume is distinctive and usually a token of honor.
The plume in the Cycle of Life is the beginning of the formative years, childhood. It is the age of innocence, pride and dreams – a time for bonding and attachment to relationships, values, attitudes, behaviors, personalities, character and to the environment. It is a time for security and integration.
The vane of an Eagle Feather represents flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness. The vane has a unique design as each feather is unique. Each individual is also unique. This is the expanded part of the feather just as youth are now expanding into the world and each is responsible for themselves.
In the Cycle of Life, the vane is the continuation of the formative years. The children have achieved their rights of passage, a boy becomes a hunter or warrior and a girl has reached womanhood. During this phase, there is learning and guidance. The mind, the mouth, heart and hand (avenues for the spirit) are being nurtured. Example and reinforcement are given in the proper direction to strengthen their spiritual well being and identity. It is a time of enrichment, logic and proof.
The entire feather is straight, strong, firm and gentle. The top portion represents the peak of life. The conduct of adulthood is to bring out the best in beauty and goodness. Men have achieved bravery, skill or character and have been renamed accordingly. Women have achieved a level of knowledge basic to the survival of the people. Self-discipline, survival skills, loyalty, solidarity, and respect within family are above all individual interests. The foundation laid for them is intact. Interdependence, empathy, insight and foresight enables them to be keepers and protectors of the culture. It is at this phase that marriage and child-bearing are foremost.
The opposite vane continues to represent flexibility and adaptability with gentleness and firmness. In the Cycle of Life, a level of seniority is established. Conduct of parenthood has been proven and movement into grand parenthood is inevitable. Relationships, community and nationhood are important. Responsibility for the welfare of others, young and old is the purpose of guidance. To encourage and support others is to give back what was given and to give more of one’s self.
As in the opposite, the plume of the Eagle Feather represents purity, lightness and gentleness. Purity in mind, body and spirit is achieved in old age. Elders become frail and weak like children. It is a very honorable age that speaks no arrogance or greed but the fulfillment of life to the best of one’s ability. They become the keepers of the wisdom with peaceful energy, authority and purpose. Elders are as highly esteemed as the Eagle.
Once again the quill represents the beginning and ending in the spiritual journey of life. Death is at the end of the Cycle of Life and is also a rite of passage into the spiritual world. The spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of loved ones into eternity. One has known his natural space, only once does he pass this way, he has made his journey. To honor death is to honor life as both are important in the spirit world.
One First Nations story is also about the eagle feather:
In the beginning, the Great Spirit above gave to the animals and birds wisdom and knowledge and the power to talk to men. He sent these creatures to tell man that he showed himself through them. They would teach a chosen man sacred songs and dance, as well as much ritual and lore.
The creature most loved by the Great Spirit was the eagle, for he tells the story of life. The Eagle, as you know, has only two eggs, and all living things in the world are divided into two. Here is man and woman, male and female and this is true with animals, birds, trees, flowers and so on. All things have children of two kinds so that life may continue. Man has two eyes, two hands, two feet and he has a body and soul, substance and shadow.
Through his eyes, he sees pleasant and unpleasant scenes, through his nostrils he smells good and bad odors, with his ears he hears joyful news and words that make him sad. His mind is divided between good and evil. His right hand he may often use for evil, such as war or striking a person in anger. But his left hand, which is near his heart, is always full of kindness. His right foot may lead him in the wrong path, but his left foot always leads him the right way, and so it goes; he has daylight and darkness, summer and winter, peace and war, and life and death.
In order to remember this lesson of life, look to the great eagle, the favorite bird of the Great Spirit. The eagle feather is divided into two parts, part light, and part dark. This represents daylight and darkness, summer and winter, peace and war, and life and death. So that you may remember what I have told you, look well on the eagle, for his feathers, too, tell the story of life.
Look at the feathers I wear upon my hand, the one on the right is large and perfect and is decorated; this represents man. The one on my left is small and plain; this represents woman. The eagle feather is divided into two parts, dark and white. This represents daylight and darkness, summer and winter. For the white tells of summer, when all is bright and the dark represents the dark days of winter.
My children, remember what I tell you. For it is YOU who will choose the path in life you will follow — the good way, or the wrong way.
Another First Nations teaching:
When the world was new, the Creator made all the birds. He colored their feathers like a bouquet of flowers. The Creator then gave each a distinct song to sing. The Creator instructed the birds to greet each new day with a chorus of their songs. Of all the birds, our Creator chose the Eagle to be the leader. The Eagle flies the highest and sees the furthest of all creatures. The Eagle is a messenger to the Creator. To wear or to hold the Eagle Feather causes our Creator to take immediate notice. With the Eagle Feather the Creator is honored in the highest.
When one receives an Eagle Feather that person is being acknowledged with gratitude, with love, and with ultimate respect. That feather must have sacred tobacco burnt for it. In this way the Eagle and the Creator are notified of the name of the new Eagle Feather Holder. The holder of the Eagle Feather must ensure that anything that changes the natural state of ones mind (such as alcohol and drugs) must never come in contact with the sacred Eagle Feather. The keeper of the feather will make a little home where the feather will be kept. The Eagle feather must be fed. You feed the Eagle Feather by holding or wearing the feather at sacred ceremonies. By doing this the Eagle Feather is recharged with sacred energy. Never abuse, never disrespect, and never contaminate your Eagle Feather.
The Fire Within
Each of us carries a fire within….whether it’s through the knowledge we have, or through our experiences and associations, we are responsible for maintaining that fire.
At the end of the day maybe we should ask ourselves: “how is our fire burning?” Maybe that would make us think of what we’ve gone through that day — if we’d been offensive to anyone, or if they have offended us.
Maybe we should reflect on that because it has a lot to do with nurturing the fire within. And maybe if we did that….to let go of any distractions of the day by making peace within ourselves….maybe then we could learn to nurture and maintain our own fire within.
Another teaching is about the differences between men and women….and finding a balance in relationships of any kind between the sexes:
How fire represents the man; men are responsible for keeping the fire at ceremonies; that fire is like that male energy….when we take part in a sweat lodge ceremony it is like being reborn from the womb of Mother Earth….the lodge is that womb….the fire that heats the rocks that go into the lodge from the fire are like the male seed entering the womb….the water put on those rocks is the female energy….water represents the female….water is the lifeblood of Mother Earth with the lakes, rivers etc. that feed her….so women are keepers of the water while men are the keepers of the fire….what does this have to do with relationships????….if man is fire and woman is water, then think of it this way: if you take fire and put it to water you create steam which is largely “invisible”….so too much on the male side can seem to make the female “disappear”…..if you take water and put it on fire, you can put the fire out….same thing then if too much on the female side; the male is “extinguished”….so it’s all about finding balance….not too much fire and not too much water….a balance or a “partnership” in learning to co-exist.
The Grandfather Story
Look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones
Who are divided
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.
Teach us love, compassion, and honor
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.
Oh Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds
And whose breath gives life to everyone,
I come to you as one of your many children;
I am weak …. I am small … I need your wisdom
and your strength.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
behold the red and purple sunsets
Make my hands respect the things you have made.
And make my ears sharp so I may hear your voice.
Make me wise, so that I may understand what you
have taught my people and
The lessons you have hidden in each leaf
and each rock.
I ask for wisdom and strength
Not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able
to fight my greatest enemy, myself.
Make me ever ready to come before you with
clean hands and a straight eye.
So as life fades away as a fading sunset.
My spirit may come to you without shame
some have said they could go into the earth and sit there singing
some have said they would go up into trees
standing stone people were the ones who sent them there
sitting high up in the trees
trees grown from the sacred roots where they were one day
sitting inside the earth and singing with those stones
Seven Grandfather Teachings
Among the Anishinaabe people, the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers, also known simply as either the Seven Teachings or Seven Grandfathers, is a set of teachings on human conduct towards others. Originally from Edward Benton-Banai’s book “The Mishomis Book”. An example of a contemporary Anishinaabe teaching presented in the form of a traditional teaching to be used in contemporary situations.
In Edward Benton-Banai’s story “The Mishomis Book” it is stated that the aadizookaan (traditional story) or the teachings of the seven grandfathers were given to the Anishinaabeg early in their history. Seven Grandfathers asked their messenger to take a survey of the human condition. At that time the human condition was not very good. Eventually in his quest, the messenger came across a child. After receiving approval from the Seven Grandfathers, tutored the child in the “Good way of life”. Before departing from the Seven Grandfathers, each of the Grandfathers instructed the child with a principle.
A very thorough re-formulation of a variety of ancient Anishinaabe/Midewiwin teachings on the ethics of proper behaviour and conduct. Benton-Banai manages to incorporate many traditional teachings into his story about the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Benton-Banai succeeds in showing how an Anishinaabe Traditional Teacher can borrow from traditional teachings and recombine and change them to make them relevant to contemporary issues faced by Anishinaabe people.
The Seven Grandfathers are traditional teachings given by the Creator to the Ojibwe to teach them what is important so that they know how to live. The Seven Grandfathers are traditional teachings on Love, Humility, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, Truth and Respect. Each of the Grandfathers is a lesson that is viewed as a gift of knowledge for the learning of values and for living by these values.
According to the aadizookaan (traditional story), the teachings were given to the Anishinaabeg early in their history. Seven Grandfathers asked their messenger to take a survey of the human condition. At that time the human condition was not very good. Eventually in his quest, the messenger came across a child. After receiving approval from the Seven Grandfathers, tutored the child in the “Good Way of Life”. Before departing from the Seven Grandfathers, each of the Grandfathers instructed the child with a principle.
Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom: To cherish knowledge is to know Wisdom. Wisdom is given by the Creator to be used for the good of the people. In the Anishinaabe language, this word expresses not only “wisdom,” but also means “prudence,” or “intelligence.” In some communities, Gikendaasowin is used; in addition to “wisdom,” this word can also mean “intelligence” or “knowledge.”
Zaagi’idiwin—Love: To know Love is to know peace. Love must be unconditional. When people are weak they need love the most. In the Anishinaabe language, this word with the reciprocal theme /idi/ indicates that this form of love is mutual. In some communities, Gizhaawenidiwin is used, which in most context means “jealousy” but in this context is translated as either “love” or “zeal”. Again, the reciprocal theme /idi/ indicates that this form of love is mutual.
Minaadendamowin—Respect: To honor all creation is to have Respect. All of creation should be treated with respect. You must give respect if you wish to be respected. Some communities instead use Ozhibwaadenindiwin or Manazoonidiwin.
Aakode’ewin—Bravery: Bravery is to face the foe with integrity. In the Anishinaabe language, this word literally means “state of having a fearless heart.” To do what is right even when the consequences are unpleasant. Some communities instead use either Zoongadikiwin (“state of having a strong casing”) or Zoongide’ewin (“state of having a strong heart”).
Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty: Honesty in facing a situation is to be brave. Always be honest in word and action. Be honest first with yourself, and you will more easily be able to be honest with others. In the Anishinaabe language, this word can also mean “righteousness.”
Dabaadendiziwin—Humility: Humility is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation. In the Anishinaabe language, this word can also mean “compassion.” You are equal to others, but you are not better. Some communities instead express this with Bekaadiziwin, which in addition to “humility” can also be translated as “calmness,” “meekness,” “gentility” or “patience.”
Debwewin—Truth: Truth is to know all of these things. Speak the truth. Do not deceive yourself or others.
Another view of the Seven Grandfather Teachings is :
To cherish knowledge is to have wisdom.
To know love is to know peace.
Is to honour all of the Creation.
Is to face the foe with integrity.
To be sincere when facing a situation.
Is to know yourself as a sacred part of the Creation.
Is to know all of these things and live them.
We have to have one mind for the Four Directions. Until we reach that one mind, we cannot be filled with understanding…. The Creator will not answer until you have just one mind, just like if you have one person. – Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder
It’s all spirit and it’s all connected. – Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder
And there are Four Corners of the Earth that we talk about, the Four Colors of people, and the Four Winds. You see the winds-they are spirits. – Grandfather William Commanda, Algonquin Elder
Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there. – William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Canada, 1991
Central to all of Elder Commanda’s teachings are the fundamental concepts of equality, as well as respect for Mother Earth, for all life and for people of all racial and cultural backgrounds…Chief Commanda is convinced that the future of life on the planet depends on our learning to live together in harmony with nature upon the land… – Remarks of Robert Chiarelli, Mayor of Ottawa upon presenting Grandfather Commanda with the Key to the City in 2006.
As William Commanda, Elder from the Algonquian Nation and keeper of the sacred wampum belts, said in the opening of his June 10, 2010 message to the Algonquins of the Ottawa River Watershed:
I have been blessed by the guidance and strength of the Sacred Wampum Belts of our Anisninabe ancestors to assert their presence over the past forty years, and many, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have been awakened to our history, wisdom and relevance in these times of unprecedented global uncertainty and chaos. But in our traditional way of thinking, the individual is only a cornerstone of a community, and we must bring our individual strengths together to recreate the strong communities we developed in the past. I have often said that Indigenous Peoples are the only ones who have never gone elsewhere to make new homes, we are at home here; we maintain the sacred unbreakable connections with Mother Earth, and we have to assert this reality with even greater vigour and perseverance in these times of war and strife, climate change and environmental crisis. Without doubt, Mother Earth’s voice is loud now, and she is calling urgently to draw us back to her. We have a crucial role to play in restoring balance on Earth, and our Earth based and cyclical ways of thinking have a vitally important role to play in human evolution and growth. We can all see the huge deficit and spiritually bankrupt legacy looming in the global landscape.
Let me finally add these words of William Commanda: “we need this old knowledge in our teachings to get through this new age”.
An important Native teaching is the Seven Fires Prophecy and one often spoken of by William Commanda. William Commanda, an Algonquin elder and former chief of the Kitigan-zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, was the wampum belt keeper for the Seven Fires Prophecy.
Seven fires prophecy is a prophecy originally taught among the practitioners of Midewiwin. The prophecy marks phases, or epochs, in the life of the people on Turtle Island (North America). The Seven fires of the prophecy represent key spiritual teachings for North America, and suggest that the different colors and traditions of the human beings can come together on a basis of respect. Originally, the prophecy and the Ojibwa migration story were closely linked. However, the last half the prophecy appears to apply to all peoples in contact with the Anishnaabeg. Consequently with the growth of the Pan-Indian Movement in the 1960s and the 1970s, concepts of the Seven fires prophecy merged with other similar prophetical teaching found among Indigenous peoples of North America forming a unified environmental, political, and socio-economic voice towards Canada and the United States.
Seven Fires Prophecy
Originally, the prophecies were given by eight prophets in seven different time periods. According to oral tradition, all Algonquian nations located in the Wabanaki heard the first prophet. The remaining seven prophets appeared before and were recorded by the Anishinaabeg. A prophecy of each of these seven periods were then called a “fire”. The teachings of the Seven fires prophecy also state that when the world has been befouled and the waters turned bitter by disrespect, human beings will have two options to chose from, materialism or spirituality. If they chose spirituality, they will survive, but if they chose materialism, it will be the end of it.
In the time of the First Fire, the Anishinabe nation will rise up and follow the sacred shell of the Midewiwin Lodge. The Midewiwin Lodge will serve as a rallying point for the people and its traditional ways will be the source of much strength. The Sacred Megis will lead the way to the chosen ground of the Anishinabe. You are to look for a turtle shaped island that is linked to the purification of the earth. You will find such an island at the beginning and end of your journey. There will be seven stopping places along the way. You will know the chosen ground has been reached when you come to a land where food grows on water. If you do not move you will be destroyed.
In heeding this prophecy, the Anishinaabe peoples, after receiving guarantees of the safety of their “Fathers” (the Abenaki peoples) and their “allied brothers” (Mi’kmaq) of having the Anishinaabeg move inland, away from the Atlantic coast, mass migration of the Anishinaabeg took place, proceeding to the “First Stopping Place” known as Mooniyaang, known today as Montreal, Quebec. There, the Nation found a “turtle-shaped island” marked by miigis (cowrie) shells.
The Nation grew to a large number and spread up both Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River. The second of the “turtle-shaped island” marked by miigis shells was at Niagara Falls.
You will know the Second Fire because at this time the nation will be camped by a large body of water. In this time the direction of the Sacred Shell will be lost. The Midewiwin will diminish in strength. A boy will be born to point the way back to the traditional ways. He will show the direction to the stepping stones to the future of the Anishinabe people.
The oral traditions of the members of Council of Three Fires say that the realization of the Second fire came about the “Third Stopping Place” located somewhere near what now is Detroit, Michigan. The Anishinaabeg had divided between those who went up Ottawa River and those that went up the St. Lawrence River. After leaving the area about Niagara Falls, this group proceeded to the “RoundLake” (Lake St. Clair) and found the third “turtle-shaped island” marked by miigis shells. They continued westward until arriving along the southern shores of Lake Michigan but by this time, the evidence of the miigis shells were lost, and the southern Anishinaabeg became “lost” both physically in their journey as well as spiritually in their journey. The southern group of Anishinaabeg disintergrated into what today are the Ojibwa, Odawa and the Potawatomi. The northern group along the Ottawa River divided into Algonquin, Nipissing and the Mississaugas, but they maintained cohesion that was not maintained by the southern group.
Eventually, a Potawatomi boy had a dream and pointed the southern group back towards and past the “RoundLake“. The southern group rejoined not as a single Anishinaabe peoplehood but rather as a unified alliance called Council of Three Fires. Travelling east and north, and then west, the Council crossed a series of small islands known as “the stepping stones” until they arrived onto Manitoulin Island, described as the “Fourth Stopping Place” of the “turtle-shaped island” marked by miigis shell. There on the island, the Council met up with the Mississaugas, who then spiritually fully re-aligned the formerly lost southern group with the northern group who were never lost. The Odawa facilitated the “healing” and the island became synonymous as the “Odawa’s Island” in the Anishinaabe language.
In the Third Fire the Anishinabe will find the path to their chosen ground, a land in the west to which they must move their families. This will be the land where food grows upon the waters.
From the cultural center on Manitoulin Island, the Ojibwe moved to the area about Sault Ste. Marie, where there was the next “turtle-shaped island” marked by miigis shell. Baawating or the “The Rapids” of the Saint Mary’s River became the “Fifth Stopping Place” of the Ojibwe. From this spot, the Ojibwe and the rapids became synonymous with each other, with the Ojibwe known by the Dakota peoples as Iyo-hahantonwan (“cascading-waterfalls people”) and later by the French as Saulteurs (“cascaders”) and Saulteaux (“cascades”). From here, the Ojibwe moved west, dividing into two groups, each travelling along the shores of Lake Superior, searching for the “land where food grows upon the waters”.
The Fourth fire prophecy was delivered by a pair of prophets. The first prophets said,
You will know the future of our people by the face the light skinned race wears. If they come wearing the face of brotherhood then there will come a time of wonderful change for generations to come. They will bring new knowledge and articles that can be joined with the knowledge of this country. In this way, two nations will join to make a mighty nation. This new nation will be joined by two more so that four will for the mightiest nation of all. You will know the face of the brotherhood if the light skinned race comes carrying no weapons, if they come bearing only their knowledge and a hand shake.
The other prophet said,
Beware if the light skinned race comes wearing the face of death. You must be careful because the face of brotherhood and the face of death look very much alike. If they come carrying a weapon … beware. If they come in suffering … They could fool you. Their hearts may be filled with greed for the riches of this land. If they are indeed your brothers, let them prove it. Do not accept them in total trust. You shall know that the face they wear is one of death if the rivers run with poison and fish become unfit to eat. You shall know them by these many things.
While at the “Fifth Stopping Place“, the light-skinned people in big wooden boats, known as the French arrived. Consequently the French were called Wemitigoozhii (“wooden-boat people”). Though the French Crown was interested in colonialism, as far as the Anishinaabeg were concerned, the French appeared only interested in commerce and trade through mercantilism. Together with the French, the Anishinaabeg formed trade alliances, which not only extended French colonial powers into the heart of North America, but strengthened the political and military might of the Anishinaabeg.
After the French came the Zhaaganaash (“Off-shore ones”) of Great Britian. But out of the Zhaaganaash came the Gichi-mookomaan (“Big-knives”)—the Virginians (i.e. Americans).
In the time of the Fifth Fire there will come a time of great struggle that will grip the lives of all native people. At the waring of this Fire there will come among the people one who holds a promise of great joy and salvation. If the people accept this promise of a new way and abandon the old teachings, then the struggle of the Fifth Fire will be will be with the people for many generations. The promise that comes will prove to be a false promise. All those who accept this promise will cause the near destruction of the people.
In the time of the Sixth Fire it will be evident that the promise of the First Fire came in a false way. Those deceived by this promise will take their children aways from the teachings of the Elders. Grandsons and granddaughters will turn against the Elders. In this way the Elders will lose their reason for living … they will lose their purpose in life. At this time a new sickness will come among the people. The balance of many people will be disturbed. The cup of life will almost become the cup of grief.
The Seventh Prophet that came to the people long ago was said to be different from the other prophets. This prophet was described as “young and had a strange light in his eyes” and said:
In the time of the Seventh Fire New People will emerge. They will retrace their steps to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the Elders who they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of the Elders will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time with nothing to offer. Some of the Elders will be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will have to be careful in how they approach the Elders. The task of the New People will not be easy.
If the New People will remain strong in their quest the Water Drum of the Midewiwin Lodge will again sound its voice. There will be a rebirth of the Anishinabe Nation and a rekindling of old flames. The Sacred Fire will again be lit.
It is this time that the light skinned race will be given a choice between two roads. If they choose the right road, then the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth and final Fire, an eternal fire of peace, love brotherhood and sisterhood. If the light skinned race makes the wrong choice of the roads, then the destruction which they brought with them in coming to this country will come back at them and cause much suffering and death to all the Earth’s people.
The Eighth Fire is a term arising from the teachings of the Seven fires prophecy. The teaching suggests that if enough people—of all colors and faiths—turn from materialism and instead choose a path of respect, wisdom and spirituality, environmental and social catastrophe can be avoided, and an era of spiritual illumination will unfold.
Sacred pipe, Medicine Bundles and Tobacco Roll
Native cultures in their traditional nature are authentic and dynamic, fostering distinctive and sophisticated development. A sense of identity, pride and self-esteem are rooted in established spiritual principles.
Native spiritual life is founded on a belief in the fundamental inter-connectedness of all natural things, all forms of life with primary importance being attached to Mother Earth.
The Medicine Wheel
The symbol of the circle holds a place of special importance in Native beliefs. For the North American Indian, whose culture is traditional rather than literate, the significance of the circle has always been expressed in ritual practise and in art. The lives of men and women, as individual expressions of the Power of the World move in and are nourished by an uninterrupted circular/spiral motion. This circle is often referred to as the Medicine Wheel. Human beings live, breathe and move, giving additional impetus to the circular movement, provided they live harmoniously, according to the circle’s vibratory movement. Every seeker has a chance to eventually discover a harmonious way of living with their environment according to these precepts.
The Four Powers
Each of the four directions represents a particular way of perceiving things, but none is considered superior or more significant than the other. The emphasis is always placed on the need to seek and explore each of the four great ways in order to gain a thorough understanding of one’s own nature in relation to the surrounding world.
The four cardinal points of the circle transcend the mere compass directions. The directions themselves embody four powerful natural forces representing seasonal influences associated with various other powerful attributes.
North represents Wisdom. Its colour is white, its power animal is the buffalo and its gift is strength and endurance. From the South comes the gift of warmth and growth after winter is over, a place of innocence and trust. Its colour is green (or sometimes red), its power animal, the mouse. To the West is the place of introspection, of looking within one’s spirit. Its colour is black, its gift rain and its power animal the bear. The East is marked by the sign of the Eagle. Its colour is gold for the sun’s illumination, the new dawning sky and enlightenment. Its gift is peace and light.
Understanding the meaning of the Medicine Wheel depends on the concept that a person’s life consists of”conquering the four hills: Infancy, Youth, Maturity and Old Age. The four stages are celebrated in ritual as the four prime moments in life corresponding to the four directions.
The first hill is the South (innocence and trust) where the infant’s reception into life occurs. The second hill, that of introspection, in the West, becomes the youth’s solitary vigil and quest for vision. This first quest seeks the revelation of the Great Spirit’s manifestation and continuing presence.
This is the time when a power animal attribute enters a Native individual’s soul becoming a part of his or her name. (Sitting Bull, Black Elk, Crazy Horse and so on). It marks the beginning of the dweller within, the dreaming soul that contacts the higher spiritual planes bringing back visions that serve as fundamental guide posts in life. The hill of maturity lies to the North and represents the successful realization of ability and ambition. It is the place of recognition in which the pursuit of wisdom underlies and nourishes all action.
Sympathy with life itself grows in this quarter.
The final hill is that of old age situated in the East. It represents a quiet, reflective and meditative segment where the old ones now can pass on their knowledge to youth as they have mastered the meaning of joy and sorrow and the many other trials and tribulations encountered over the course of their existence.
Ceremonies are the primary vehicles of religious expression. A ceremonial leader or Elder assures authenticity and integrity of religious observances. Nothing is written down, as the very writing would negate the significance of the ceremony. Teachings are therefore passed on from Elder to Elder in a strictly oral tradition.
Elders may be either men or women. Their most distinguishing characteristic is wisdom which relates directly to experience and age. There are exceptions. Elders need not be “old”. Sometimes the spirit of the Great Creator chooses to imbue a young native. Elders’ spiritual gifts differ. Some may interpret dreams. Others may be skilful in herbal remedies or be healers during a sweat lodge ceremony, and so on.
Pipes are used during both private and group ceremonies, the prayer itself being wafted through the smoke of the burning plant material. Pipes are of no set length. Some stems may or may not be decorated with beads or leather. Others may be elaborately carved with bowls inlaid with silver. Bowls may be of wood, soapstone, inlaid or carved in the form of various totemic power animals (an eagle with folded wings) or another sacred animal.
The pipe is disassembled into its component parts while being carried from one place to another. The pipe is never a “personal possession”. It belongs to the community. The holder of the pipe is generally considered its custodian. While every native has the right to hold the pipe, in practise, the privilege must be earned in some religious way. The pipe is usually passed on to another custodian under specific fasting and cleansing rite regulations. There are pipes exclusively used by either men or women. Men’s pipes become unclean if touched by women and vice-versa.
The Pipe Ceremony
Pipe ceremonies constitute the primary group gatherings over which Elders preside. Participants gather in a circle. A braid of sweetgrass (one of four sacred plants) is lit and burnt as an incense to purify worshippers, before the pipe is lit. Burning sweetgrass also symbolizes unity, the coming together of many hearts and minds as one person.
The Elder strikes a match, puts it to the end of the sweetgrass braid and fans the smouldering grass with an eagle’s feather, to encourage smoke production. The Elder then goes from person to person in the circle where the smoke is drawn four times by hand gestures toward the head and down the body. The Elder must fan the glowing end to keep it burning properly or the material loses its spark.
The Elder then places tobacco in the pipe and offers it in the four sacred directions of the compass. Some Western tribes begin by making an offering to the West. Eastern Natives may propitiate the Spirit of the East whence comes the light of the sun at daybreak, who also gives guidance, direction and enlightenment. Then the Elder faces South where the guardian spirit of growth presides after winter is over. Next is West, the direction of the spirit gateway where reside the souls of those who have left this plane of existence. The spirit of the North concerned with healing and purification is then addressed.
Spirits will be asked for assistance in the main prayer, which may be specifically for one individual, a participant in the circle or for someone far away or someone who has passed over. The pipe, passed from person to person in the circle, might be offered to all creation, to those invisible spirit helpers who are always there to guide humanity. The last of the tobacco is offered to the Great Creator.
Another version of the Pipe Ceremony is the Sacred Circle which essentially follows the same procedures, but also allows a time period for individual participants to address the assembly.
Used mainly for communal prayer purposes, the Sweat Lodge may also provide necessary ceremonial settings for spiritual healing, purification, as well as fasting. Most fasts require a sweat ceremony before and after the event.
Lodge construction varies from tribe to tribe. Generally, it is an igloo-shaped structure about five feet high, built in about one and a half hours from bent willow branches tied together with twine. The structure is then encased in blankets to preclude all light. A maximum of eight participants gather in the dark.
In the centre, there is a holy, consecrated virginal section of ground (untrampled by feet and untouched by waste material) blessed by an Elder with tobacco and sweetgrass. There, red hot stones heated in a fire outside the lodge are brought in and doused with water. A doorkeeper on the outside opens the lodge door four times, contributing four additional hot rocks (representing the four sacred directions) to the centre. A prepared pipe is also brought in.
Sweat Lodges may be dismantled after the ceremony is over, but often, they are left standing to accommodate the next ceremony. Lodges may only be entered in the presence of an Elder.
Some ceremonies such as “doctoring” sweat require the participant to eat a meal. There are specific rituals requiring special foods. Sacred food for the Ojibway for instance consist of wild rice, corn, strawberries and deer meat. Typical feast foods for the Cree from the prairies would be Bannock (Indian Bread), soup, wild game and fruit (particularly Saskatoon berries or mashed choke cherries). For a West Coast Indian, sacred foods might include fish prepared in a special way. Although foods may differ, their symbolic importance remains the same.
Rattles are shaken to call up the spirit of life when someone is sick. The Elder also uses a rattle to summon the spirits governing the four directions to help participants who are seeking spiritual and physical cleansing to start a “new” life during a sweat lodge ceremony.
Rattle or shaker
Drums represent the heartbeat of the nation, the pulse of the universe. Different sizes are used depending on “doctoring” or ceremonial purposes. Drums are sacred objects. Each drum has keeper to ensure no-one approaches it under the influence of alcohol or drugs. During ceremonies, no one may reach across it or place extraneous objects on it.
A Manitoba Elder graciously provided some samples of a collection of spiritual artifacts used in sacred ceremonies. The collection, which appears in this guide, should not be construed as being “typical.” Contents in Medicine Bundles may vary considerably taking into account the cultural diversity of Aboriginal First Nations across Canada and the U.S.
Eagles’ wings and feathers, rawhide gourds, drums, abalone shells, prayer cloths and prints are some of the more common objects in use, in addition to the pipe. Eagle wings and feathers are awarded for outstanding deeds. They may be worn in the hair or on a costume, but normally they are carried in the hand. Indians regard the eagle as a sacred bird. The eagle represents power, strength and loyalty. The four sacred plants, sweetgrass, sage, cedar and tobacco or kinniekinnick (red willow shavings) are also often worn in a “medicine” pouch around the neck or pinned onto clothing. Elders may have additional sacred items such as bear claws on a thong or badges that have been given as gifts during ceremonies.
Excerpts from ‘Greetings To The Natural World’:
Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.
Now our minds are one.
The Earth Mother
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to all the Waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms – waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of water.
Now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come.
Now our minds are one.
The Food Plants
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Medicine Herbs
Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning, they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines.
Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so.
Now our minds are one.
We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many peoples of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds – from the smallest to the largest – we send our joyful greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
The Four Winds
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn to the west where our Grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers.
Now our minds are one.
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together and give thanks to our oldest grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of women all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon.
Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to all the Stars.
Now our minds are one.
The Enlightened Teachers
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring Teachers.
Now our minds are one.
Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator.
Now our minds are one.
We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way.
Now our minds are one.
Great Spirit Prayer:
Great Spirit Prayer
“Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.
Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice
Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.
Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.
Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy
Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.
When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength.
Give thanks for your food and the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.
Ojibway Prayer by Art Solomon:
Look at our brokenness.
We know that in all creation
Only the human family
Has strayed from the Sacred Way.
We know that we are the ones
Who are divided
And we are the ones
Who must come back together
To walk in the Sacred Way.
Teach us love, compassion, and honour
That we may heal the earth
And heal each other.
“Ojibway Prayer” was composed by Art Solomon, an Anishinaabe Elder.
Here is a little prayer in Anishnawbemowin (Ojibway) with English translation:
_______is my name
_____________ is my clan
Thank you, I say to you
mijiian kakina gego
for giving me everything
minik menesiian ahking
I may need on earth
One good path
weweni n-wi-bimose gaye
and carefully I will walk
Brace my mind & heart
tchi mino ganawenidisoyan mojag
that I may always have care of myself
binish tchi ishkwa bimadisiian
until the after life.
punae n’mikwenima n’mishomis
Always I will remember the grandfather
geween kokomisanaun manido
her too the grandmother spirit
I know and I understand
A Prayer of Thanks for Food
Ngizhemanidoom, sema ngiimiinagoo wiinamaayaanh nangwaa. Gagwejimin wiizhiwendamaan maanda miijim miinawa zhiwenmishinaang nangwaa. Miigwech ndinaanaanik gewe wesiinhak, okaanak, bineshiinhak, miinawa giigonhik, kinagwa gwayaa gaabigitnaamwat wiinwa bimaadiziwaan maanpii akiing niinwe wiimaadiziiyaang. Miigwech ge ndikaadami netawging miinawa maanwaang gaamiizhiyaang wiimiijiyaang wiizongziiyaang nangwaa.
Miigwech ngizhemanidoom miigwech
My creator. Tobacco was given to me to pray today. I ask you in a good way to bless this food and to bless us today. We say thank you to all those animals, wild and domestic, the birds and the fish. Everyone that gave up his or her lives here upon the earth, so that we can live. We also say thank you for the vegetables and the fruits that you have given to us, so that we can have strength today.
Thank you my creator thank you.
“Northbound” by Norman Knott
When one thinks of leadership, one can be reminded of watching a V-formation of geese in flight.
The lead goose is sticking its neck out to break the air currents for the rest of the flock, thereby making it easier for the others to fly (as they “draft” in behind).
But if you watch that V-formation long enough, you’ll see that the lead goose will eventually fall back and another one will come up to take its place.
So a good leader will stick its neck out for who ever is following, setting a good example for the others.
But also a good leader knows when to let another lead, when to let others have a chance.
A Medicine Wheel is a circle divided into parts (usually four), which relate with and counterbalance one another to form a whole, and is often used to represent Aboriginal wisdom in North America. Medicine Wheels are not necessarily a tradition belonging to all Aboriginal peoples. However, many cultures have some variation of the Wheel, and the Traditional Knowledge and views of the various first peoples of North America are more compatible with the circle concept than with linear, European-based forms of thought.
The Medicine Wheel represents and unites various aspects of the world, both seen and unseen, and emphasizes how all parts of the world and all levels of being are related and connected through a life force originating in the creation of the universe. Some wheels teach about the four cardinal directions, the seasons, times of day, or stages of life; others represent the races of people, animals, natural elements, aspects of being, and so on. All parts of the wheel are important, and depend on each other in the cycle of life; what affects one affects all, and the world cannot continue with missing parts. For this reason, the Medicine Wheel teaches that harmony, balance and respect for all parts are needed to sustain life.
The centre of the Medicine Wheel symbolizes the self in balance, and the perspective of traditional philosophy. The central perspective is a neutral place where it is possible to develop a holistic vision and understanding of creation and the connections between all things.
Medicine Wheels made of stones arranged on the Earth have been found in various places throughout North America, marking places of special significance, such as places of energy, ceremony, meeting, meditation, teaching, and celebration. Some estimate that there were about 20,000 medicine wheels in North America before European contact occurred. Some Medicine Wheels on the prairies have been found to be 5,000 years old or more.
Numbers have always played a significant part in traditional Aboriginal life. Four is one of the most sacred numbers used in Aboriginal culture. Many aspects are seen in terms of four. The Sacred Mystery, the source of all creation, reveals itself as the Powers of the Four Directions and these four powers provide the organizing principle for everything that exists in the world: The Seasons, The Races, The Elements of the Universe, The Stages of Life, The Emotions and Aspects of Human Behavior. The Medicine Wheel, which is symbolized by a cross within a circle, is a ceremonial tool and the basis for all teaching wheels. The Power of the Four Directions is implied when ever a wheel or circle is drawn. Since traditional Native American cultures view life as a continuous cycle, life mirrors the cycling of the seasons, the daily rising of the sun, and the phases of the moon. They also hold the view that all things are interrelated. The Medicine Wheel incorporates the Powers of the Four Directions and the interrelatedness of all things. The teachings of the Medicine Wheel were originally explained orally with the circle being drawn in the earth and a gradual overlaying of symbols, as meanings were explained by an elder. The elder would begin with an explanation of the Four Directions and the center of the wheel which represents the Sacred Mystery. He may have gone on to explain some of the following concepts: The Four Aspects of Human Personality-the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual; The Seasons-the changing from fall, winter, spring and summer, occurs in a cycle; The Four Stages of Life-childhood, adolescence, adulthood,and elders; The Races-red, white, black and yellow; The Four Elements-water, air, fire, and earth. The basic Medicine Wheel of the the Powers of the Four Directions, can be expanded to include other wheels, such as the emotions wheel, or the mind wheel. These wheels within wheels are used to explain and examine such concepts as those emotions that impede personal growth and the development process that involves leading a person to wholeness.
The Medicine Wheel
Tobacco is the first medicine given from the Creator. It is in the East and represents the promise that the Creator is always willing to listen. Yellow is the colour, spring is the season and childhood is the stage of life.
Tobacco is the first plant that the Creator gave to the Anishinabe people. Three other plants: sage, cedar and sweetgrass are held sacred by the people. Together they are referred to as the four sacred medicines (Muskiiki). The four sacred medicines are used in everyday life and in all of our ceremonies. All of them can be used to smudge with, though sage, cedar and sweetgrass also have many other uses. It is said that tobacco sits in the eastern door, sweetgrass in the southern door, sage in the west and cedar in the north. Elders say that the spirits like the aroma produced when the other sacred medicines are burned.
Sacred tobacco was given to the Anishinabe so that we can communicate with the Spirit world. Tobacco is always offered before picking other medicines. When you offer tobacco to a plant and explain your reasons for being there, the plant will let all the plants in the area know your intentions and why you are picking them. Tobacco is used as an offering, a gift, and is an important part of Anishinabe ceremonies.
Sweetgrass is in the South and connected to Mother Earth. It has a shiny and beautiful side as well as a plain side, representative of youth. When sweetgrass is braided, it cannot be pulled apart. Likewise when your body, mind and spirit are solidly connected, you will be full and strong in your personal life. Red is the colour, summer is the season and youth is the stage of life.
Sweetgrass is the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Its sweet aroma reminds our people of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for the people. When sweetgrass is used in a healing circle it has a calming effect. Like sage and cedar, sweetgrass is used for smudging and purification.
Sage is in the West. As we move into the adult stage of our lives, we always exit through the West and sage assists in that journey. The smell of sage is intended to attract the spirits’ attention. Black is the colour, fall is the season and adulthood is the stage of life.
Sage is used to prepare our people for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than sweetgrass, sage is used more often in ceremonies. Sage is used for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy. It is also used for cleansing homes and sacred bundles carried by people. It also has other medicinal uses.
Cedar is placed in the North. While Mother Earth sleeps, cedar stays green, symbolizing that Mother Earth still watches over and protects us. White is the colour, winter is the season and Elderly is the stage of life.
Like Sage and Sweet grass, Cedar is used to purify the home, it also has many restorative medicinal use. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing. When cedar mixed with tobacco is put in the fire it crackles, this is said to call the attention of the Spirits (manitous) to the offering that is being made. Cedar is used in sweat lodge and fasting ceremonies for protection, cedar branches cover the floor of many sweat lodges and some people make a circle of cedar when they are fasting. It is a guardian spirit and chases away the bad spirits.
Some visual thoughts on the Medicine Wheel teachings, with drawings done by the late artist Norman Knott (of Curve Lake First Nation). Norman’s art caught many of the important aspects of such teachings:
Relationship Medicine Wheel
Native teachings on relationships (and any time we involve ourselves with another at whatever level, it is a form of a relationship). Let me first just comment on The Medicine Wheel Teachings Of Relationships or the Relationship Medicine Wheel and the four stages of a relationship — one is Acquaintance, somebody you know to at least wave at or say HI to; two is that of Companion or somebody that you know and trust more — possibly go out on a date or dinner with; three is Friend who is somebody that you trust and can confide in (about almost anything) — while knowing that person may have other “Friends” who have completely different interests than yourself and who likely will spend time with your Friend in many different ways than you may share with your Friend — but that’s OK because you know that your Friendship is strong enough and based on trust and honesty — Friendship should never be complicated by petty jealousy; the fourth stage is that of the Lover — your best of best friends — somebody you can tell absolutely anything to — that you trust completely — who loves you for who you are — not trying to make you or take you for anything less or more than for yourself; the only thing else I can add to that is that for the Relationship to work completely one should go through each of these four stages in turn (too often we skip one or more of these stages — then pay for it dearly — especially if we don’t try to go back and “redo” the stages we missed….that doesn’t mean that you have to take years for each stage to be completed….just that you need to go through those stages)….
“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohoolhoolzote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say, “Yes” or “No.” He who led the young men [Olikut] is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are — perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” – Chief Joseph
You might as well expect the rivers to run backward as that any man who was born free should be contented to be penned up and denied liberty to go where he pleases. We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything…and that he never forgets, that hereafter he will give every man a spirit home according to his deserts; If he has been a good man, he will have a good home; if he has been a bad man, he will have a bad home. This I believe, and all my people believe the same. I am tired of talk that comes to nothing It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk. It does not require many words to speak the truth. If the white man wants to live in peace with the Indian, he can live in peace. Treat all men alike.Give them all the same law.Give them all an even chance to live and grow.All men were made by the same Great Spirit Chief. They are all brothers. The Earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it. Let me be a free man,free to travel, free to stop,free to work,free to trade where I choose my own teachers, free to follow the religion of my fathers,free to think and talk and act for myself, and I will obey every law, or submit to the penalty.” ~ Chief Joseph, Nez Perce
Anishinaabe (Chippewa, Ojibwa) Healing and Ceremonial Terms
Ka-mad-ysit: Healing, mind body, spirit
Chees-au-kaun: Healing ceremony
Oo-dish-ee-uin: A gift that is earned
Audi-soo-kaun: Storyteller, spirit
Mi-sa-bi-shew: Legend or spirit
Shi-gag-weedie: Musk sack of a skunk
Ga-ga-kee-wa-dug: Grass medicine
Wee-sa-gibag: Medicine for healing cuts
•Nee-ba-gwai-shee-moong: Dreams (visions)
•Noonda-sh-qua-shem-moong: Thirst dance
•Ween-dow-soong: Name giving
•Way-bin-na-son: Cloth – tobacco ties
The Ojibwe people have an ancient legend about the origin of the dreamcatcher. Storytellers speak of the Spider Woman, known as Asibikaashi; she took care of the children and the people on the land. Eventually, the Ojibwe Nation spread to the corners of North America and it became difficult for Asibikaashi to reach all the children. So the mothers and grandmothers would weave magical webs for the children, using willow hoops and sinew, or cordage made from plants. The dreamcatchers would filter out all bad dreams and only allow good thoughts to enter our mind. Once the sun rises, all bad dreams just disappear. American ethnographer Frances Densmore writes in her book ‘Chippewa Customs’:
Even infants were provided with protective charms. Examples of these are the “spiderwebs” hung on the hoop of a cradle board. These articles consisted of wooden hoops about 3½ inches in diameter filled with an imitation of a spider’s web made of fine yarn, usually dyed red. In old times this netting was made of nettle fiber. Two spider webs were usually hung on the hoop, and it was said that they “caught any harm that might be in the air as a spider’s web catches and holds whatever comes in contact with it.”
Traditionally, the Ojibwe construct dreamcatchers by tying sinew strands in a web around a small round or tear-shaped frame of willow (in a way roughly similar to their method for making snowshoe webbing). The resulting “dream-catcher”, hung above the bed, is used as a charm to protect sleeping people, usually children, from nightmares.
The Ojibwe believe that a dreamcatcher changes a person’s dreams. Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through. Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day. Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper.
I remember a story about a community….they had agreed to have mining….if the mining company would agree to ensure that the land and water was in the same condition seven generations into the future – for the children and the animals. The mining company chose not to mine under those conditions.
When we gather, we have to remember that our ancestors gathered seven generations ago and thought of us. They thought about how they would give us our teachings – they passed them on to their children and grandchildren who became our great-grandparents. We need to keep this in mind and always think about the seven generations. Children need to be involved, even if they’re just present. They’ll remember this. We need to pass those teachings on by teaching our children and gran…dchildren. We need to involve them so that one day they will meet like we are doing. That’s how our teachings are passed on.
We show those who have gone on how we respect them by meeting in places like the lodge. We make those connections for one another; help each other remember.
The knowledge we have is transmitted to the unborn. We are grateful for all the knowledge the mothers and grandmothers have conveyed to us. We need to pay attention to natural laws and work as best as we can in meeting everyone’s needs.
Mino-bimaadiziwin: a good life. Each one of us was given a way of life and free will. Ceremony is a way to live and honour that good life. The good life is about getting wellness from our work and the things we do.
The teachings tell us that by fulfilling our duties and obligations, we are gifted with a good life, mino-bimaadiziwin. Some of our actions are preventative. For example, we acknowledge our duties and our responsibilities in order to help prevent us from harm. Resp…ect also leads us to knowledge.
To live the traditional way of life is one of the most difficult things we can do. But it’s always very rewarding, particularly to come into a lodge and observe a way of life that’s been given to us and passed from generation to generation.
We do things for our grandchildren. We are responsible for preparing the next generation. We are responsible to teach them our way of life, including our language. We have responsibilities to ensure a good life for the generations to come.
When we do things, we do them with the support of the people – all people. It may be the women’s responsibility to care for the water….to carry the water….to lift up the water….but the women need support from the men….from the youth….from the children….even from the Elders. They can’t do it by themselves.
Sacred laws connect us no matter how we interpret things individually. The best way to support one another is respect. We treat others as equals. We use the expression “all my relatives”; this does not mean my relatives just as people but everything in Creation that are our relatives. And that is everything in Creation. And everything is connected….everything in Creation is connected….we are all connected.
We have to speak for the water and for the land; that’s the responsibility we have throughout our lifetime.
Everything should be done in ceremony, which is how we’ve been doing things for a long time. We should go down to the water and offer tobacco and our thoughts, so we can ask the water to bless us in helping her in what we’re doing. This is what we do as a people and what we’ve done for a long time.
We also need to talk about looking to the youth to help us. Some of us are getting older. The youth are our future….and they should be involved in saving not only their future but the futures of those yet to come. And the youth need to help protect the water. To protect the land. With the guidance of the Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
It’s more harmful for our generations of Anishinaabe in future if we stop acknowledging great sacred laws of water (Anishinaabe nibi inaakonigewin).
Laws govern interactions between beings. In Anishinaabe law, we expand our understanding of “beings” to include life forms such as animals, plants, rocks, in other words anything that has a spirit. Spirits are considered to be beings with whom we interact. Anishinaabe law considers the interactions between and within these beings and understands them to be governed by spiritual, natural and customary laws. Sacred law is the law that is handed down to us by the spirit. Natural law is dictated by what we observe in nature and that “behaviour” which we model ourselves by.
Water is tied to land – they are always linked together. How we relate to water depends on the particular land in which we are situated but the teachings and principles themselves are the same.
Anishinaabe law is more about responsibility than rights. I have a responsibility to the water.
To take care of the land, you have to take care of the water. Without the water, we wouldn’t have life.
We need to give more than just consideration to the health and the preservation of the water – for our own existence.
Every action we take that is negative will have a reaction. We must stop being reactive and start being proactive.
Because of their ability to give life, women are the protectors of the water. Those responsibilities are exercised on behalf of the children and the generations to come.
Water is an important part of how we come into this world. It carried us through the gestation period and it announces our birth.
Without water, we couldn’t sustain Mother Earth or life at all. Without water, there is no life. Water is living and has a spirit – try living without it. Life and health flow from the water.
All of life has a basic right to water. All of life has a basis of water… not just human beings – all life.
Older people knew the importance of water. They would say “it won’t be long before you are buying water”. We’re losing our water rights. These waters were always ours to protect.
Even though Anishinaabe do not own the water, there are responsibilities to the water. We need to put our foot down and protect the water for seven generations yet to be. We must ensure clean water for us, our children, grandchildren and future unborn generations.
We do not own water. The Elders were clear that contrary to the Western view, Anishinaabe law does not consider water to be a resource that is owned or acquired: Water is for everyone.
For us, as Indigenous people, water is not just about quality and quantity – water is everything!
Bottom line: to be an ally, when it comes to Indigenous matters, non-Indigenous people should ask what they can do to help….not tell Indigenous people what Indigenous people should do.
Indigenous people need allies in their struggles….especially since our struggles are also those of everyone. Especially when defending the land….defending the water. But true allies.
If one doesn’t know what to do, whether one is Indigenous or non-Indigenous, then ask an Elder or Traditional Knowledge Keeper. But be careful to seek out a genuine Elder or Traditional Knowledge Keeper….who truly knows the Teachings. Not a ‘fake’ Elder….not a New Age ‘fraud’ or a Plastic ‘shame-on’.
Water is so significant…
It is the last natural resource we Anishinaabe have to stand up for.
It is precious.
What defines a nation? People, land, language, history and culture, and a system of government. We have had these things for thousands of years. If this is the criteria for a nation why is it so hard to recognize us as a nation? Our Creator, our land, and our language are the first three things they tried to take away from us in residential school. Our words tell us our history and don’t need to be written. Our words are important because one word can mean so many things. We should believe in something greater than we are.
There are key differences between Anishinaabe law and Western law. Elders have been asked to think about how Anishinaabe law and Western law interact currently, whether or not they should interact and how they might interact better.
One key distinction the Elders drew between the two systems is that our laws aren’t as much about rights as responsibilities. Anishinaabe law is much deeper: looking after each other, the land, the water. When we meet such as we did at last summer…‘s Great Lakes Gathering, what we did there is Anishinaabe law; talking together, figuring out what to do about water.
The source of Anishinaabe law also distinguishes it from Western law in its spiritual nature: Everything stems from the Creator. We have rules and procedures too. No government can stop the Great Spirit Law.
Western law tells us what to do, not what is there. It doesn’t let us make up our own minds about what to do. Western law tells us exactly how to act; Anishinaabe law will not. Anishinaabe law acts as a guide and tells us what is.
Western society needs to hear our way of life, our laws. Canadian law is imposed and never really did any good.
There is a place for Anishinaabe law to stand alongside Canadian law but not in a way that disrespects or compromises Anishinaabe law. I can’t compromise it; Creator gave us those laws. We can’t change them. I can’t tear down that other system but I am going to foster that Anishinaabe way of life.
We want to be able to share Anishinaabe law, which came from the Creator, with others (youth and other cultures) in a clear way. It’s time to explain it in a simple and clear way. In the past, Anishinaabe people used to not want these stories to be written, but now there is a greater want to have these stories written in order to pass these teachings on to others who may not know this way of life. It is crucial to pass the knowledge.
The way we do things isn’t a religion it’s a way of life.
We are spirits first, before we’re even born and the Creator lowered us down to be humans. In everything we do there’s a spirit to it. Everything is spiritual. We have to reconnect to these things.
When we have prayer we need to have the pipe, we need to get away from time constraints, that’s not who we are…
If we want strength we need to go to the things that made us strong.
In our culture, the water is considered our life-blood. It not only flows through our bodies and provides us nourishment, it is said to flow directly from the Spirit World in a beautiful river that flows forever. As Anishinaabe people, we should do everything we can to honour this deep spiritual connection.