On Sunday I took a trip (my third to be exact) to the Smithsonian American Indian museum. I had time to look at the exhibits and reflect on the teachings from my tribe, the Sault Ste Marie Chippewa.
The Chippewa are the second largest ethnic group of Native Americans in the United States. They can be found in the Great Lakes region. Anishinaabe and Ojibwa are also names for Chippewa meaning “the first people.” Historically they are known for their initial peace with the French settlers in the North. Hatred and aggression were not words known by the Chippewa. They welcomed the stranger among them. Their political structure was based on the clan system in order to meet the needs of the nation the clans would work together. My clan, the Loon, was given the role of leaders in the tribe and shared the responsibility of chiefdom with the Crane Clan.
The Ojibwa are a people deeply in tune with the transcendent. They respect all creation and admire the eagle for its grace in the skies. As a person grows more spiritually, they understand the peaceful nature of the eagle and come to admire it. Respecting others beliefs is part of the process of spiritual growth in the Anishinabe way of life. To be Anishinabe is to be proud of who you are and where you came from.
Of all of the ways of my ancestors, The Seven Teachings of the grandfathers shape my way of thinking the most. The Seven Teachings exemplify the Catholic Social Teaching of Care of Creation. By caring for the earth and the inhabitants of the globe we show respect for God.
The Seven Teachings are wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility, and truth.
The first teaching, wisdom, means knowledge should be cherished. Using good judgment is also another aspect of wisdom. Having wisdom is to make well informed judgments about issues such as how our military spending affects more than just military and defense workers. Life-changing decisions such as reallocating funds for Foreign Assistance can be inspired by wisdom.
Love is the practice of absolute kindness. In the oral stories that have been passed down through generations it has been said that unconditional love is to know when people are weak and when they need your love the most. Love is given freely and you cannot put conditions on it or your love is not true. To know love is to succumb to true peace. This made me think of all of the violence and injustice in the world. If we felt love for our brothers and sisters, atrocities around the world would not have to occur.
Respect is reverence that is to be shown to all creation. Everything made by the Great Creator should be safeguarded and never harmed. If you take from Mother Earth in order to survive, you must only take what you need. What is not used or is left over should be given back to her. I am reminded of a statement from Chief Seattle of the Squamash Tribe, “The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth.” I truly believe that we are here to protect the planet and preserve it for future generations to enjoy.
Bravery is not simply having the strength to fight; it is having the courage to choose not to fight. Peace can be more powerful than aggression.
Honesty is being faithful to reality and facing a difficult situation while remaining honorable. In certain situations sacrifice is necessary in order to remain honest and do what is right.
Humility is to know where you belong as a sacred part of the Creation. This includes treating all equally. The Anishinaabe believe that everything in creation is alive and has a spirit. All of creation is interconnected. To live out this teaching would make the world a better place. Treating people from different walks of life as you would treat your own family is important. It is what makes us human. Humility resides within all of us and should be shown by welcoming other cultures and traditions into our lives.
The last teaching is truth. Knowing all of the teachings is to accept the truth. It is also accepting and sharing the truth. The truth is knowing that in order to achieve a society where there is peace, the teachings should be practiced and kept close to our hearts. Knowing the truth is to keep our spirits up and never give up on spreading these teachings from person to person; creating an interwoven community, a singular family.
The lessons we know to be true create a community of life on our planet. These teachings are held sacred to the Anishinaabe. They teach ideals that are not just for native people but for all people. These teachings create peace and harmony between all of creation. I hope you will think about how to incorporate them into your own life and spread the lessons of my grandfathers.