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Native Teachings

The Seven Grandfather Teachings

The Seven Grandfather Teachings have always been a part of the Native American culture. According to the elders, their roots date back to the beginning of time. These teachings impact our surroundings, along with providing guidance toward our actions to one another.  They are the basic rules that govern our individuality, our family life and our community life.

The elders tell a story of long ago when a messenger was sent from the Creator to see how the “Anishinabek  or original people” were living, discovered that they were living their life in a negative way, which impacted their thoughts, decisions, and actions. Some had hate for others, displayed disrespectful actions, were afraid, told lies, and cheated. Others revealed pride or were full of shame. During the messenger’s journey, he/she came across a child. This child was chosen to be taught by the Seven Grandfathers to live a good life. He was taught the lessons of Love, Respect, Bravery, Truth, Honesty, Humility, and Wisdom.

Before departing from the Seven Grandfathers, they told the child, “Each of these teachings MUST be used with the rest. You cannot have Wisdom without Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth. You cannot be Honest if you are only using one of the other teachings. To leave out one teaching would be embracing the opposite of what the teaching means.” The Seven Grandfathers each instructed the child with a principle. It was then up to the child to forget them, or to put them to use.

Each one of us represents the child. We must apply the teachings of our Seven Grandfathers to our own lives, faithfully. We must place our trust in the Creator and the teachings that were given. We must also never forget to be sincere in our actions, character, words and deeds.

Historically, the education or teachings of the Seven Grandfathers has been done by the elders in an oral tradition.  These teachings encompass the morals, values, structures, ceremonial practices, spiritual beliefs of the Anishinabek.  These teachings vary from nation to nation, because of the geographical placement of each particular group.  However, the teachings come from the same root story and share similar messages.

The Seven Grandfather Teachings have been given to the people of Turtle Island just as the Ten Commandments were given to the people across the oceans.  They speak to basic principles that foster integrity and good outcomes for all people.  These teachings are being adopted by schools and many other cultures.


Humility is represented by the wolf.  For the wolf, life is lived for his pack and the ultimate shame is to be outcast. Humility is to know that you are a sacred part of creation. Live life selflessly and not selfishly.  Respect your place and carry your pride with your people and praise the accomplishments of all.  Do not become arrogant and self-important. 

You must always consider ourselves equal to one another. You should never think of yourself as being better or worse than anyone else. Humility comes in many forms. This includes compassion, calmness, meekness, gentleness, and patience. You must reflect on how you want to present yourself to those around you. You must be aware of the balance and equality with all of life, including humans, plants, and animals.


Bravery is represented by the bear.  The mother bear has the courage and strength to face her fears and challenges while protecting her young.  The bear also shows us how to live a balanced life with rest, survival and play. To face life with courage is to know bravery. Defend what you believe in and what is right for your community, family, and self.  Make positive choices and have conviction in your decisions.  Face your fears to allow yourself to live your life.

Facing a problem with integrity is a true demonstration of bravery. You must do what is right even when the consequences may be unpleasant. You face life with the courage to use your personal strengths to face difficulties, stand tall through adversity, and make positive choices. You must stand up for your convictions and have courage in your thinking and speaking. All of these actions together will lead to ceaseless bravery.


Honesty is represented by either the raven or the sabe.  They both understand who they are how to walk in their life.  “Sabe reminds us to be ourselves and not someone we are not. An honest person is said to walk tall like SabE.  And just like Sabe, Raven accepts himself and knows how to use his gift. He does not seek the power, speed or beauty of others. He uses what he has been given to survive and thrive. So must you.” The Seven Sacred Teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman, by: David Bouchard & Dr. Joseph Martin. To walk through life with integrity is to know honesty. Be honest with yourself. Recognize and accept who you are.  Accept and use the gifts you have been given.  Do not seek to deceive yourself or others.

Facing a situation is to be brave, but having the courage to not only do the right thing, but also saying it, is honesty.  You must allow truth to be your guide. You must first be honest with yourself. This will allow you to be honest with others. You must give full value to both the efforts of your own and others. When you walk through life with integrity, it is then that you know honesty. Be truthful and trustworthy. You must also remember to accept and act on truths through straightforward and appropriate communication.


The beaver represents wisdom because he uses his natural gift wisely for his survival.  The beaver also alters his environment in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way for the benefit of his family. To cherish knowledge is to know wisdom. Use your inherent gifts wisely and live your life by them.  Recognize your differences and those of others in a kind and respectful way.  Continuously observe the life of all things around you.  Listen with clarity and a sound mind.  Respect your own limitations and those of all of your surroundings.  Allow yourself to learn and live by your wisdom. 

The mixture of these teachings, combined with the experiences of life, is what is referred to as wisdom. It is given to you by the Creator to be used for good. Wisdom carries other meanings, which also include intelligence or knowledge. When you cherish your knowledge or intelligence, you are also cherishing your wisdom. You must use sound judgment along with the ability to separate inner qualities and relationships. You must use good sense and course of action to form a positive attitude. You must remember to listen and use the wisdom that has been provided by your Elders. You must also always remember that Wisdom comes in all shapes, sizes, forms, and ages.


Truth is represented by the turtle as he was here during the creation of Earth and carries the teachings of life on his back.  The turtle lives life in a slow and meticulous manner because he understands the importance of both the journey and the destination. Truth is to know all of these things. Apply faith and trust in your teachings.  Show honor and sincerity in all that you say and do.  Understand your place in this life and apply that understanding in the way that you walk.  Be true to yourself and all other things.

Truth is having the knowledge of our cultural teachings. It gives you the ability to act without regret. You must understand, speak, and feel the truth, while also honoring its power. Truth should not lead you to deceptions. You know who you are in our heart. By knowing that, you also know the truth. Your emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual gifts will guide each one of you in your journey.


Respect is represented by the buffalo.  The buffalo gives every part of his being to sustain the human way of living, not because he is of less value, but because he respects the balance and needs of others. To honor all creation is to have respect. Live honorably in teachings and in your actions towards all things.  Do not waste and be mindful of the balance of all living things.  Share and give away what you do not need.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated.  Do not be hurtful to yourself or others.

A way to honor creation is by showing respect. There should be no part of creation that should be excluded from the honor that you are to given. You demonstrate respect by realizing the value of all people and things, and by showing courteous consideration and appreciation. You must give respect if you wish to be respected. You honor the traditional roles that you fill and the teaching you have been given. You honor your families and others, as well as yourself. You are not to bring harm to anyone or anything. Respect is not just an action, but a heart-grown feeling.


The eagle represents love because he has the strength to carry all the teachings.  The eagle has the ability to fly highest and closest to the creator and also has the sight to see all the ways of being from great distances.  The Eagle’s teaching of love can be found in the core of all teachings, therefore an eagle feather is considered the highest honor and a sacred gift.  To know love is to know peace. View your inner-self from the perspective of all teachings.  This is to know love and to truly love yourself.  Then you will be at peace with yourself.

Your love must be unconditional. When people are weak, that is when they need love the most. Love is a strong affection for another. This can form between friends and family. Love is an attachment based upon devotion, admiration, tenderness, and kindness for all things around you. For one to love and accept themselves is to live at peace with the Creator and in harmony with all of creation. Love knows no bounds. You must accept it sincerely and give it freely.


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Medicine Wheel Basics

The Medicine Wheel, sometimes known as the Medicine Circle, Sacred Hoop or Sacred Circle, has been used by generations of almost all of the Native American tribes of North America for centuries.

In fact, the term “Medicine Wheel” is not Native American term. It was given to the circular structures by the first Europeans and is not the way the first peoples referred to their rock structures.  In truth, the concept of a wheel was foreign to the first peoples before contact with Europeans.  It is now a term that is commonly accepted.

The teachings of the Medicine Wheel are numerous, varied and far reaching, extending into more modern examples of health, wellness, spirituality, community, politics and more.  These teachings will vary from elder to elder, community to community, and geographical region to another.

There is no right or wrong way to use the Medicine Wheel as a teaching tool.  It has been adapted as a universal symbol and a personal learning tool for various cultures beyond North America.

We need to remind ourselves that the knowledge vested by our elders should be honoured and respected.  The Medicine Wheel is an important tool and way of preserving and passing on culturally important knowledge. The knowledge vested in elders should be honoured and respected.

The Sacred Circle

The symbol of a circle, or wheel, is common in many cultures around the world.  Most importantly to indigenous cultures, it acknowledges the connections of everything in life, such as the four seasons; the four stages of life; the four directions; the four elements; the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual; and the relationships of the seen and unseen worlds.

The circle is divided into four colour quadrants. The colours may vary, but the symbolism remains similar throughout indigenous peoples.  Starting with the east, or the eastern doorway is the colour of yellow.  Opposite is west, or the western doorway is the colour of black or indigo.  To the south is the colour red, and to the north is the colour of white.

Each of these colours and quadrants relates to a specific teaching and I will attempt to get into each of those teachings in subsequent blog posts.

You may ask why a circle?  Circles represent cycles.  They represent the shape of our celestial bodies (sun, moon, earth, planets).  They represent containers or vessels.  They are the perfect tool for all the Medicine Wheel teachings.

If you look at the following list of 4’s, one can certainly see that there is a lot to contemplate, discuss, analyze, and ponder over. 

It is said that at the centre of the Medicine Wheel sits the Creator/God or the “life force that runs through all things”.  Another analogy is that we ourselves sit at the centre of the Medicine Wheel and the Creator/God sits on the outside of the circle watching over us.  Regardless, there is definitely a unity of “onenesss”, peace, balance and beingness that exits in the centre when all 4 aspects come together.

The Symbolisms of Four

4 Directions – East, West, North South

4 Seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

4 Periods of the Day – Dawn, Noon, Dusk, Midnight

4 Races of Humanity – Red, Black, White, Yellow

4 Stages of Life – Child, Adolescence, Adulthood, Elderly

4 Disciplines – Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual

4 Sacred Medicines – Tobacco, Sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar

4 Celestial Aspects – Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars

4 Life Forms – Plant, Mineral, Animal, Human

4 Elements – Fire, Water, Earth, Air

4 Qualities – Hot, Dry, Moist, Cold

4 Elements of Life – Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus

4 Food Nutrients – Water/Liquid, Fibre, Protein, Mineral

4 Basic Requirements for Human Life – Food, Water, Shelter, Clothin

4 Basic Requirements for Other Life – Food, Water, Shelter, Safety4

4 Temperaments – Sanguine, Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholic

4 Emotions – Anger/Disgust, Love/Happiness, Fear, Surprise

4 Aspects of Womanhood – Maiden, Mother, Queen, Crone

4 Aspects of Manhood – Warrior, Provider, Leader, Guide/Mentor

4 Stages of Celebration – Preparation, Purification, Consecration, Thanksgiving

4 Stages of Agriculture – Planting, Cultivating, Harvesting, Thanksgiving

4 Aspects of Sustainability – Social, Economic, Ecological, Cultural

4 R’s – Reduce, Recycle, Reuse, Repair

4 World Religions – Christian (30%), Muslim (20%), Hindu (10%), Unaffiliated (50%)
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13 Moons on Turtle's Back

Many Native American people look at Turtle’s back as a sort of calendar, with its pattern of 13 large scales standing for 13 moons in each year. As Grandfather says to a young boy, it reminds us that all things are connected and we must live in balance.

Available in hardcover only. Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back, by Joseph Bruchac and Jonathan London, with illustrations by Thomas Locker. 1992, 29 pages.

Many Native American people look at Turtle’s back as a sort of calendar, with its pattern of 13 large scales standing for 13 moons in each year. As Grandfather says to Sozap, a young boy in this book’s first story, it reminds us that all things are connected and we must try to live in balance.

In many Native American cultures, each of the 13 moons of the year is said to hold its own story. Turtle holds the mystery of each moon on the shell of its back and gives each moon its power.

From the Potawatomis’ Baby Bear Moon to the Anishinabes’ Maple Sugar Moon to the Lakota Sioux’s Moon When Wolves Run Together, in Native American legend, the natural world is a place of great power where stories help humans understand the mysteries of the earth.

The Native people of North America have always depended upon the natural world for their survival. Watching the changes going on in the natural world with each season, they also look up into the sky and see it changing. In many parts of North America, the Native people relate the cycles of the moon to those seasons. In every year, there are 13 of those moon cycles, each with 28 days from one new moon to the next.

In this collection of poems based on traditional Native stories, Abenaki storyteller and American Book Award recipient Joseph Bruchac collaborates with poet Jonathan London to give voice to the 13 moons of the year and reveal the wonder of the seasons. Spectacular oil paintings by Thomas Locker honor the myths of Native American peoples and the sublime beauty of the land.

Joseph Bruchac is a storyteller, poet, and publisher, and much of his writing draws on his Native American and European heritage. He believes that poetry and storytelling are natural to human beings. His poems and stories have appeared in more than four hundred magazines and anthologies.

Publisher: Philomel Books
Culture Groups: Abenaki, Northern Cheyenne, Potawatomi, Anishinabe, Cree, Huron, Seneca, Pomo, Menominee, Micmac, Cherokee, Winnebago, Lakota Sioux, Abenaki

The turtle’s back is a significant symbol used in Iroquoian traditions. It represents the creation of  Turtle Island also known as the continent of North America, on the turtle’s back or more accurately the “Earth Grasper”,  from their Creation Story.  A closer look will reveal a pattern of thirteen individual segments on his back which represent each moon of the Iroquoian cycle of seasons.  These segments are named according to seasonal practices and natural environmental occurrences e.g. Green Corn, Harvest etc. 

Further to this there are twenty-eight platelets which form an edging around the shell. This is the number of days in the moon cycle.

Source:  Oneida Language and Culture

This “calendar” is a natural anomaly given to the native people of Turtle Island to remind them of their connection to Mother Earth and that we are not only connected as one people, but we are connected to the natural forces of above and below (Heaven or celestial bodies and Earth).


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13 Grandmother Moons

The traditional native people of Turtle Island acknowledge the teachings of the 13 Grandmother Moons.  Depending on the geographic area and celebrations around those moon, they may have different names.  Many of our older pagan cultures such as the Celtics and Druids also followed a 13 moon cycle and related celebrations.  There are numerous stories, too many to mention, that are associated with each of these moons.

1 = January — Spirit Moon, Wolf Moon
The first moon of Creation is Spirit Moon, and is manifested through the Northern Lights. It is a time to honour the silence and realize our place within all of Great Mystery’s creatures.

2 = February — Snow Moon, Bear Moon
The second moon of Creation is Bear Moon, when we honour the vision quest that it began in the fall. During this time, we discover how to see beyond reality and to communicate through energy rather than sound.

3 = March — Sugar Moon, Worm Moon
The third moon of Creation is Sugar Moon. As the maple sap begins to run, we learn of one of the main medicines given to the Anishnabe which balances our blood, and heals us. During this time, we are encouraged to balance our lives as we would our blood sugar levels, by using Divine Law.

4 = April — Pink Moon, Sucker Moon
The fourth moon of Creation is Sucker Moon, when sucker goes to the Spirit World in order to receive cleansing techniques for this world. When it returns to this realm, it purifies a path for the Spirits and cleanses all our water beings. During this time we can learn to become healed healers.

5 = May — Flower Moon
The fifth moon of Creation is Flower Moon, where all plants display their Spirit sides for all the world to see. This life giving energy is one the most powerful healing medicines on Mother Earth. During this moon we are encouraged to explore our Spiritual essences.

6 = June — Strawberry Moon
The sixth moon of Creation is Strawberry Moon. The medicine of the strawberry is reconciliation. It was during this moon cycle that communities usually held their annual feasts, welcoming everyone home, regardless of their differences over the past year, letting go of judgment and/or self-righteousness.

7 = July — Raspberry Moon, Buck Moon
The seventh moon of Creation is Raspberry Moon, when great changes begin. By learning gentleness and kindness, we may pass through the thorns of its bush and harvest its fruit, knowledge that will help in raising our families.

8 = August — Thimbleberry/Strawberry Moon, Sturgeon Moon
The eighth moon of Creation is the Thimbleberry Moon, when we honour the Thimbleberry which produces an abundance of fruit once every three years. It was one of the first plants put on Mother Earth, and its purpose is to protect the Sacred Circle of Life by allowing us to recognize and understand the teachings that come from the Spirit World.

9 = September — Corn Moon
The ninth moon of Creation is the Corn Moon, during which time we learn about the cycle of life. Each cob of corn has thirteen rows of multicoloured seeds which represent all the spirits waiting to begin their Earth Walk. These will be the future generations for whom we must prepare.

10 = October — Falling Leaves Moon, Hunters Moon
The tenth moon of Creation is the Falling Leaves Moon, a time when Mother Earth is honoured with the grandest of colours. As all of Creation makes their offerings to her, we become aware of all the miracles of Creation before us and our spiritual energies are once again awakened.

11 = November — Freezing Moon, Blue Moon
The eleventh moon of Creation is the Freezing Moon, a time when the Star Nation is closest to us. As every creature being prepares for the coming fasting grounds, we are reminded to prepare ourselves for our spiritual path by learning the sacred teachings and songs that will sustain us.

12 = December — Little Spirit Moon, Beaver Moon
The twelfth moon of Creation is the Little Spirit Moon, a time of healing. By receiving both vision of the spirits and good health, we may walk the Red Road with purest intentions, and we can share this most positive energy with our families and friends for the good of all.

13 = Big Spirit Moon, Cold Moon, Blue Moon
The thirteenth moon of Creation is Big Spirit Moon. Its purpose is to purify us, and to heal all of Creation, a process which may take a three month long spiritual journey. During this time, we receive instructions on the healing powers of the universe and transform into our own vision of the truth.

Thirteen Grandmother Moon Teachings by Arlene Barry, from her series of compiled teachings “Kinoomaadiewinan Anishinaabe Bimaadinzinwin”

Special Note:  The Full Moons mentioned above reflect the twelve moons of the modern day calendar.  Before the concepts of calendars and twelve were introduced to the native peoples, they naturally honoured thirteen moon cycles within their known year.  These moon cycles were associated with the seasons and celebrations that occurred during those seasons.  The notation of the blue moon is common within the non-native cultures and occurs during a month when two full moons occur.

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