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 that demonstrates what it means to live a “Good Life.” They detail human conduct towards others, the Earth, and all of Nature. Originating from a traditional Potawatomi and Ojibwe story, these teachings are not attributed to any specific creator. The story, and the teachings have been passed on orally by elders for centuries. An Ojibwe Anishinaabe man, Edward Benton-Banai, describes an in-depth understanding of what each means, in his novel The Mishomis Book.
The Seven Grandfathers were powerful spirits who held the responsibility of watching over the people. They noticed how difficult life on Earth was for the people and sent their helper down amongst the people to find a person whom they could teach to live in harmony with the Earth. The helper found a newborn child, however the Seven Grandfathers believed him to be too young at that time. Shkabwes, the helper, was instructed to take the boy to see the four quarters of the universe in order to give him more time to grow. When he returned, the boy was seven years old. The Grandfathers then began to teach the young boy, and they each presented him with a gift. These gifts were Wisdom, Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, and Truth. The boy, now a full-grown man, returned to the people and taught them of the gifts of the Seven Grandfathers. With the gifts and the understanding the people now had, they began to adjust to the daily challenges. The people had learned to live in harmony with the Earth.
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. The teachings of the seven grandfathers span centuries, and in those centuries the story has been adapted in various ways. Benton-Banai manages to incorporate many traditional teachings into his story about the Seven Grandfather Teachings. He 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.
Leanne Simpson, a Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer, musician, and academic, wrote the book A Short Story of the Blockade. Within that book, Simpson references the Seven Grandfathers, but when discussing the seven gifts, rather than referencing honesty, she speaks about kindness. Additionally, in another book from Simpson, “As We Have Always Done,” she references these teachings as the “Seven Grandmothers." The idea behind the story of the Seven Grandfathers and their teachings remains the same, yet the story itself has been adapted throughout its history.
The Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers are among the most commonly shared teachings in Native culture. They hold great significance to the Anishinaabe people and are considered to be the founding principles of their way of life.
The Seven Grandfather teachings have been around for centuries, passed on from elders through storytelling. These teachings have helped shape the way of life for Anishinaabe people for years and continue to do so. The stories can be adapted to fit specific community values. The teachings have been incorporated by organizations, schools, different programs, artists, individualists, and tribes.
In contemporary society, these teachings have been used as a way to heal from and prevent both domestic and sexual violence. When taught in relation to these topics, humility teaches one to find balance, bravery allows individuals to continue living their lives in the face of their fears, honesty teaches people to be honest and to accept oneself, wisdom allows one to know and respect their boundaries, truth asks that one be true to themselves, respect ensures one not be hurtful to themselves or others, and finally love teaches to know and love thyself.