Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Lessons To Be Passed On

July 26, 2013

  Tracy Oberle

"A member of the Potawatomi tribe performs the traditional warrior dance. Starting low to the earth symbolizes the hunt while rising is done in celebration upon completion of the hunt."

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. There is much to be learned from the lessons taught to us by our grandfathers.

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. Wisdom

The first teaching, wisdom, means knowledge should be cherished. Using good judgment is also another aspect of wisdom. Having the wisdom to make well informed judgments about an issue such as 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. In Pakistan mothers are afraid to send their children to school or to the market out of fear of attack drones along with other dangers. Out of love, we owe our brothers and sisters in Pakistan an end  to their torment by ceasing the use of attack drones in the region and giving aid to those in need.


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. As we consider extreme measures that devastate earth and creation such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, 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.


Looking at past military actions such as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki proves that human choices can distress all kinds of creation. There is not only the immediate devastation but long term effects can still be seen today. Generations later, land still cannot grow the necessary crops to sustain the communities. 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. In order to pass a comprehensive immigration bill that can help over 11 million undocumented people in the United States there must be sacrifice. Both sides can’t get exactly what they want; there must be compromise for the greater good.


Humility is the next lesson. It 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 in the Anishinaabe community. They teach ideals that are not just for native people but for all people. These teachings create peace and harmony between all of creation. After reading about the teachings I hope you will think about how to incorporate them into your own life and spread the lessons of my grandfathers.