July 17th, 2024

Miywasin Moment: The Seven Sacred Teachings: Wisdom – The Beaver

By JoLynn Parenteau on July 5, 2023.

Wisdom, represented by the Beaver, is a sacred teaching explored in this Miywasin Moment series.--SERIES ART CREATED BY JOLYNN PARENTEAU

“To live your life based on your unique gift is to live wisely.”

– from ‘The Seven Sacred Teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman’,

David Bouchard and

Dr. Joseph Martin, authors

Long ago, our Elders say the Creator gave a great gift to the first caretakers of Turtle Island (Native North America): the Seven Grandfather Teachings.

In this series, the Miywasin Moment explores these Seven Sacred Teachings. Also called the Seven Sacred Laws or Tipi Teachings in other parts of Turtle Island, these are values passed down from our Ancestors.

Indigenous ways of knowing are built upon these seven natural laws, each upholding a virtue necessary to an honourable and balanced life. The tipi poles that form the structure of this traditional home each represent a value.

In this sixth series instalment, as we reflect on all we have witnessed, revisited and learned through National Indigenous History Month in June, let us seek to better understand the Sacred Teaching of Wisdom, the antidote to ignorance.

In the Blackfoot language, Wisdom is sopoksistawa’si. In Cree, it is iyinisiwin. In Michif, nipwahkow, and in Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language, nibwaakaawin. Though our words differ, our many nations all hold ancestral knowledge and gifts that carry through our generations past, present and future.

The Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness at Sagkeeng First Nation in Pine Falls, Manitoba is a place for reconnecting to the Earth and sharing Indigenous ancestral knowledge, founded on the Seven Sacred Laws. The Turtle Lodge offers children, youth, adults and Elders the opportunity to come together in a sacred environment for traditional teachings, ceremony, healing, and the sharing of the perspectives of the original Peoples of Turtle Island on mino-pimatisiwin, ‘a good and peaceful way of life’.

In 2021, Turtle Lodge supported Indigenous filmmaker Erica Daniels of Peguis First Nation and the respected late writer and Anishinaabe Elder Dr. David Courchene, also named Nitamabit (The Original Way and One who Sits in Front) Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Leading Earth Man) to produce a series of animated YouTube videos about the Seven Sacred Laws.

Each sacred teaching is represented by an animal, “offering a special understanding of how we as people should live our lives on Mother Earth,” taught Elder Courchene.

The series’ sixth episode returns to the young Anishinaabe boy who is on a vision quest. On his fourth night alone in the wilderness, the spirit of the Beaver visits him at the edge of the fire’s light to teach him the Law of Wisdom.

“Wisdom is knowing you have a special gift and purpose, and using your gift to build a peaceful world. Everyone has a gift,” the Beaver tells the boy. “Your gift was given to you by Gitche Manitou (the Great Spirit; Creator) to help the people. You will be happiest when you are using your gift.”

As I grow in my role as a new generation Knowledge Keeper, I feel a calling to share Indigenous wisdom I acquire with our wider community through my inherited gift of storytelling. On June 21, National Indigenous Peoples Day, local jingle dress dancer Josie Saddleback and I visited the staff and students of Ross Glen Elementary School during a special morning assembly. Sharing traditional songs and dance with our non-Indigenous peers and the next generation expands appreciation of differing gifts within our community, and encourages Indigenous children to witness the strength in their culture’s traditions.

In the afternoon, Ross Glen Elementary’s youngest students joined this writer for Michif language lessons, ribbon skirt history, and practical uses of the Metis sash during the fur trade, discovering the wisdom of generations past steeped in both folklore and survival skills. Older students joined Saddleback at a powwow demonstration in Kin Park, where she joined other traditional dancers in colourful regalia, sharing their gift of dance with a captive audience.

Saddleback, whose Cree name means ‘White Bear Woman’, has travelled extensively the past two years to offer the healing jingle dress dance at various events across Alberta, and most recently performed at Medicine Hat’s Beat The Heat skate park community event on July 1.

“It’s such an honour to dance,” says Saddleback. “It’s very important that we carry these traditions to pass down.”

“To know wisdom is to know your spirit is part of you,” shares Elder Courchene in Turtle Lodge’s video series. “It defines your identity, your gifts and your purpose that help you serve humankind.”

North Dakota wellbriety program Tribal Community Prevention’s Seven Sacred Teachings guide tells us, “The building of a community is entirely dependent on gifts given to each member by the Creator. When used properly, these gifts contribute to the development of a peaceful and healthy community.”

In The Seven Sacred Teachings of White Buffalo Calf Woman, authors David Bouchard and Dr. Joseph Martin impart, “Look into any clear lake. You do not see your reflection. You see that of those who came before you. Through all your relations and this Teaching of Wisdom, you will come to use your gift to direct your life’s journey. Do not live based on what you wish you were. Live on what you are. If you have been given the gift of song, then sing. If yours is the gift of dance, then dance.”

In Cree, the beaver is Amisk. Amisk’s gift is his powerful front teeth, a tool that equips him to build his lodge and influence his environment, shaping his aquatic community with his dams. If he were to neglect to use his gift, his teeth would grow long until they hindered him. Amisk is wise to use his gift to thrive, and so must each of us.

JoLynn Parenteau is a Metis writer out of Miywasin Friendship Centre. Column feedback can be sent to jolynn.parenteau@gmail.com.

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