3 – 4 hours
- Seven Grandfather Teachings
- Value system
The Seven Grandfathers are traditional teachings given by
the Creator to the Ojibwe to teach them what is important so that they know
how to live. The Seven Grandfathers are traditional teachings on Love,
Humility, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, Generosity and Respect. Each of the
Grandfathers is a lesson that is viewed as a gift of knowledge for the
learning of values and for living by these values. Although each teaching
represents a wealth of wisdom on its own, collectively they represent what
was needed for community survival. The Ojibwe were taught that the Seven
Grandfathers could not be used in isolation. To practice one without the
other would amount to practicing the opposite of that teaching. Therefore,
to not love is to be fearful; to not be humble is to be egotistical; to not be
honest is to be dishonest; to not be courageous is to be cowardly
Central to this philosophy, or worldview, is the emphasis
on the larger perspective, the effects on others, the family, the community,
the region and the universe, as the Ojibwe (and other Aboriginal peoples)
believe that all beings are connected, like links in a chain. A belief in
the interdependence of all living things frames Aboriginal value systems.
Animals are no less important than humans, and plants are no less important
than animals. Water and wind, sun and moon and the changing of the seasons
are all related to each other and to humans. We are all part of one great
whole. As this awareness dictates a vision of the world as a whole,
traditional Aboriginal thinking concludes that life forms maintain their
health and balance through the focus on harmony as opposed to individual
wants or needs. The Seven Grandfathers were designed to achieve harmony.
- To identify the Seven Grandfather Teachings as
understood by the Ojibwe
- To develop understanding as to connection between the
Seven Grandfather Teachings and Aboriginal worldview
- To understand the significance of the term
“grandfathers” as it relates to the teachings
- To distinguish between communalism and individualism as
they pertain to the contemporary thinking and their impacts on society
- To be able to compare the Seven Grandfathers to their
contrasting value opposites
- To develop understanding of the terms “personal values”,
“sacred”, “traditional”, “respect”, and “balance”
- To appreciate the wisdom of the Seven Grandfathers as a
model for balanced living today
- To distinguish between personal, familial and societal
- To navigate the internet with control
- To demonstrate visually and in writing examples of the
Seven Grandfathers in practice
Subject Strand Links
- Interdisciplinary Studies
Divide the class into equally sized groups. Give each group a box containing the following:
- Knife replica or a drawing of a knife
- Propose the scenario in which the students must choose
two objects from the box as a group to take with them to survive in the
wilderness without any other objects. Have them discuss which objects
to take and why. Which ones are not needed, and why?
- Have groups report their decisions to the class with
their explanations. Ask them what they based their decisions on. What
influenced their thinking? Did they stick to their original ideas or
did they change their minds based on what others said? Offer that they
based their values on the perceived importance or worth of the object to
their survival. Have each group identify what was important to them
when they chose their objects from the box, e.g., warmth, shelter,
protection, nourishment, etc. Did everyone agree on what to take or was
- Now have each individual make a list of the following
values: cleanliness, responsibility, punctuality, fairness, and
courtesy. Have them rank order the importance of these values to them
personally. Have them turn to a partner and compare notes. How many
shared the same rank ordering? Each person may have a unique value
system. Discuss as a class why people have different personal values.
Discuss why values change from time to time, e.g., not being concerned
about being late for school but making sure to be on time for a date.
- Now re-rank the values based on what they think their
parents would choose. How do these values systems differ from theirs?
As a family what values are important? What values are not important?
What happens when a family does not share the same values?
- Explain that the class will learn about societal values
now, ones that are accepted by a society, forming the basis of its
cultural traditions, structures, practices, and laws. Societal values
help to maintain the kind of society in which people want to live. At
every time in history every community has developed its own value
systems. Some have had major influences from other societies and others
have not. What happens when different societies meet? What happens if
their values conflict with each other? Discuss world conflict.
- Introduce Elder Lillian Pitawankwat, an Ojibwe who comes
from Manitoulin Island in Ontario. Does anyone know where that is? Has
anyone ever been there? She has traditional teachings based on Ojibwe
beliefs to share with the class about Ojibwe societal values, called the
Visit Four Directions homepage together as a class to:
- View location of Elder’s community on Turtle Island map. ***
- Read the Elder biography. Who can pronounce her name?
- Individually or in pairs have students listen to
Lillian’s teachings on “The Seven Grandfather Teachings”
- Have students make a chart of the Seven Grandfather
Teachings with the positive side of the societal values on one side and
their corresponding opposites on the other side: Love/Fear; Humility/Ego;
Honesty/Dishonesty; Courage/Cowardice; Wisdom/Ignorance;
Generosity/Greed; Respect/Disrespect. Working in pairs, have them look
up a dictionary definition of each of these terms and write them in
their charts. Discuss why the Ojibwe refer to their values as
grandfathers. What is the symbolism behind this term?
- Next have them provide a written hypothetical example of
each of the Seven Grandfathers (values) and their opposites. Share the
examples as a class.
- Read the summary above about the Seven Grandfathers.
How would the Seven Grandfathers have impacted on the thinking and
behaviour of Ojibwe who lived in communal society long ago? How does
this compare to contemporary society’s emphasis on individualism?
Provide examples of how society does or does not embrace these values
today (Love, Humility, Honesty, Courage, Wisdom, Generosity and
Respect). What would the world be like if everyone followed the Seven
- Wrap up lesson with a selection of discussion topics and
optional exercises below.
- “Historically, the minds of the American Indian and
the Euro-American are very different due to their evolution in two
separate parts of the world. Developing in opposite hemispheres, the
American Indian mind and the Euro-American mind are naturally set and
steeped in incongruent values that distinguish their separateness….the
Indian mind and the Euro-American minds are polar opposites, and that
due to cultural developments in different parts of the world, the two
races advanced their thinking by developing separate sets of values that
remain incongruent in the context of historical Indian-White relations.
Geographic distance assisted in creating the polarity of these two
opposites. The great length of time before their contact with each
other had also caused such a separate development of mind sets……As a
result of different hemispheric orientation of the thinking mind, and
primarily due to cultural influences and fundamental needs, the brain of
the American Indian developed with an orientation to “circular thought”
and the brain of the Euro-American developed with an orientation to
“linear thought.” (Donald Fixico, The American Indian Mind in a
Linear World, 2003). What does Fixico mean by “circular thought” and
“linear thought”? How would such contrasting perspectives influence the
way Indian people live versus Euro-Americans? What differences exist in
the values and behaviour of these two cultures?
- The traditional Aboriginal worldview is based on a
philosophy in which everything in life is connected and influences
everyone and everything else. Therefore, just as when you drop a stone
into a pond it has a rippling effect, your words and your actions (or
inactions) impact on others and the world around you. Discuss the advanced
intellect behind the Aboriginal philosophy which values community over
- Conduct a research project on how the relationship
between First Nations and non-First Nations people in this country
developed. Identify the values that motivated the actions of the
European settlers. What were the prevailing attitudes of the
Europeans? How did the attitude of superiority and the desire for power
and control motivate the actions of the European settlers? To what
extent do First Nations continue to resist this oppression?
- Interview a grandparent or other elderly person about
what life was like when they were young and how people treated each
other. Record the interview with a tape recorder. Play back the tape
and make notes on all the values the elder mentions. Write a report on
the interview to summarize the elder’s main points while also comparing
their views to yours. Is society pretty much as they described it from
long ago? What things are the same? What things are different? Why do
you think things have changed? What could we learn from the elder’s
- Reflect on your self-concept in a journal. Write about
the values that you share with your friends. What are the things you
have in common that makes you feel comfortable with them? Now compare
this feeling of comfort to being uncomfortable with someone you do not
get along with. Why don’t you get along with this person? What
differences in values do you have? Why do you think you have different
- Choose a song that appeals to you and that refers to one
of the Seven Grandfathers. Type the lyrics and decorate on a poster
with symbols to represent the songwriter’s message. Present your
interpretation of the song to the class.
- Work in groups to identify someone living or dead who
exemplifies one of the Seven Grandfathers. Conduct research on the life
of this person to reflect what he or she said and did in keeping with
this value. How could society learn to be more like this person?
Present to class.
- Do internet research on your community. What is the
credo of your city or town? What is the official emblem? What does it
represent? Visit City Hall or other municipal or local government office
to meet with your representative (City Councillor, Band Councillor,
etc.). Ask the representative what he/she values. What does he/she
want for the community? What is he/she doing to help the community?
What can students do to participate?
- Start a community service school project with the help
of the local government eg. Cleaning litter from a park or beach;
visiting elderly in nursing homes; volunteering at an animal shelter or
drop-in centre; raising money for a hospital or school; working with the
early childhood educators at a daycare. Set a long term goal and mark
the progress for all to see. Celebrate the contributions made at the
end of the year.
- Design a symbol or figure to represent one of the Seven
Grandfathers. Using either clay, stone, or some other material,
construct a sculpture or other three-dimensional form. Invite parents
and community leaders to a showing of the art.
- Invite a youth who has been recognized as a role model
to speak to the school (see links below)
- Personal Values
- Family Values
- Societal Values
Coats, blankets, flashlights, drawings of knives, food,
- Teacher evaluation of writing exercises for spelling,
grammar, punctuation, content, style, creativity, and sentence
- Self evaluation of success with community service
projects. What did I learn from this experience? Was it worthwhile?
How does my community benefit from what I’ve done?
- Peer evaluation of presentations and artistic
creations. Were they educational? In what ways? How do these
representations make you think of these values differently?
- To hear the pronunciation of the Seven Grandfathers in Ojibwe
- National Aboriginal Role Model Program
- National Metis Youth Role Model Program
- National Aboriginal Achievement Awards recipients
- Benton-Banai, Edward. The
Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway. Hayward, WI: Indian Country
Communications, 1988. 114 pages. ISBN: 1-893487-00-8. Grade 5 and up. The
classic book about Ojibway traditional teachings, written for children and
adults, provides readers with an accurate account of Ojibway culture,
history, and worldview based on the oral teachings. Major topics include
Creation, the four directions, the pipe, the Midewiwin and Sweat Lodge, the
Seven Fires prophesy, and the Seven Grandfathers Teaching, values and
beliefs, and the role of Elders. Students in elementary and secondary school
will find The Mishomis Book a useful text for Native Studies; college and
university courses in Native Studies will also appreciate the traditional
teachings contained within this important work