Living Well: Body & Soul Using the 7 Grandfather Teachings of Our Canadian Indigenous Peoples

The Seven Grandfather Teachings have always been a part of the Native American culture. Their roots date back to the beginning of time. These teachings impact our surroundings, along with providing guidance toward our actions to one another.

Robert Houle installation: Art Gallery of Ontario, + see LOCALS section for more information.

According to the story, long ago, a messenger sent to see how the Neshnabék were living, discovered that the Neshnabék 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 his journey, the messenger 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 him, “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 faithfully apply the teachings of our Seven Grandfathers to our own lives. We must place our trust in the Creator. We must also never forget to be sincere in our actions, character, and words.

LOVE Knowing love is to know peace. Our 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. We must accept it sincerely and give it freely.

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

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

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

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

HUMILITY Humility is to know that we are a part of creation. We must always consider ourselves equal to one another. We should never think of ourselves as being better or worse than anyone else. Humility comes in many forms. This includes compassion, calmness, meekness, gentleness, and patience. We must reflect on how we want to present ourselves to those around us. We must be aware of the balance and equality with all of life, including humans, plants, and animals.

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

For Learning Resources + thoughtful crafting for all ages, look here.

Saulteaux Artist Robert Houle

LOCALS: We have some pieces at the Art Gallery of Hamilton currently as well as in the surrounding GTA. Click here to view schedules and what pieces can be seen locally. I am 100% taking advantage of seeing these instalments.

From his experience growing up on the Sandy Bay First Nation/Kaa-wii-kwe-tawang-kak in Manitoba to his studies, exhibitions, curatorial work, and residencies, Saulteaux artist Robert Houle has had a meaningful influence on the field of contemporary art and Indigenous culture. Houle’s resignation from his position as curator of contemporary Indian art at the National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of History) in 1980, proved to be a significant marker in the artist’s career, setting the path towards a body of remarkable artistic production. With an emotional desire to free ceremonial objects from relegation to anthropological artifacts, Houle made a promise to devote the rest of his art career to changing perspectives on what constitutes contemporary Indigenous art through his artistic and curatorial practice.

“Houle reconciles and synthesizes contemporary art trends and Indigenous traditions, encouraging a renewed vision of the world that regains the missing caverns of First Nations cultural memory. His work exposes issues affecting Indigenous peoples, including land rights, fighting for the rights of Indigenous art and artists, and decolonizing the museum and the self.”SHIRLEY MADILL

Robert Houle: Life & Work reveals how Houle’s work has impacted First Nations art and opened critical discussion and views on political and cultural issues surrounding First Nations peoples, including defining Indigenous identity, portraying the impact of colonialism, responding to crises such as Oka, and addressing land claims and residential schools. Robert Houle has played an important role in bridging the gap between contemporary First Nations artists and the broader Canadian art scene through his writing and involvement in early, important high-profile exhibitions such as Land, Spirit, Power: First Nations at the National Gallery of Canada in 1992. This book also explores the artist’s site-specific and public arts projects and residencies, showing the impact on and import of the artist’s work in Canadian art.

Shirley Madill is executive director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery. Prior she was director/curator, Rodman Hall Art Centre; CEO, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; chief curator/director of programming and vice-president, Art Gallery of Hamilton; and curator of contemporary art and photography, Winnipeg Art Gallery.

It's helpful to have a guiding system in your life. Whichever guiding light you wish to follow, whatever you connect with and gives you a moral compass, empathy towards others, and a sense of growth and desire to share you talents with the world, follow that. Life experiences influence the lens in which each of us looks through that creates our reality. Make sure you are on a path that is most suited to you. If you haven't found the right path yet, have a look at older traditions. Look to the older scriptures, religions that have spanned for the greater part of human history, fables and stories you connect with personally to fuel hope. You go this. Looking back toward traditional, more wholesome values is the direction we need to address as we move forward into a more tech-based lifestyle with all the possibilities AND all the distractions to keep you occupied instead of flourishing.


Seven Grandfather Teachings. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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