A Story of the Seven Sacred Laws
By Nii Gaani Aki Inini – Leading Earth Man (Dave Courchene)
Anishinabe Nation, Eagle Clan
As the Knowledge Keepers of our Nations, we carry the protocols of living close to the land. There are Seven Sacred Laws that act as the foundation of the relationship we have with the land. Seven animals act as the holders of these laws. It is the animals who deliver the laws to the People. The Animal Nation has been given the responsibility by the Creator to give us these teachings, trying to show us that we are a part of nature.
I am going to tell you a story of a young man… what I am going to tell you is based on a true story.
A young boy was troubled by what he was seeing in the world. He saw how humans were not taking care of the land. Concerned about climate change, the wars, violence and hatred, he decided to approach Grandfather and ask him what he could do to bring change to the world.
He knew enough to offer a gift to Grandfather.
He came with a pouch of tobacco and a beautiful starblanket. Grandfather was sitting by a fire, drinking a cup of tea. Happy to see his grandson, he noticed the boy was troubled. Elders always seem to notice those things. Grandfather accepted the gifts and smiled: "How can I help you, my Grandson?"
The boy with an expression of concern responded, "Why is our world in so much trouble and turmoil?”
“Grandfather,” he pleaded, “What can I do to help the Earth?”
Grandfather replied softly, “I am so happy that you ask such an important question. Very few are asking this question, because most are so filled with trying to survive in the world that man has created, a world that is destroying him and the Earth we depend on for our survival. The question that you are asking can only be answered by going on a Vision Quest.”
The young boy’s eyes widened. “What is a Vision Quest?” he asked.
“It is a rite of passage to help you become a man,” answered Grandfather. The time is now for you to go to the land, the true teacher of how to survive by learning the order and laws of Creation. To help you understand who you are, you must ask your ancestors your question, and call on the Earth and nature to teach you. All that you will need is tobacco that you will surround yourself in a circle with, once you have found a place on the land, preferably on a sacred site your ancestors left for you. We have a special place called Manitou Api, meaning ‘the place where the Great Spirit sat’. You will be alone for four days and four nights. You will fast with no water and no food. This will help you to clear your mind and cleanse your body so it can be ready to receive and live your vision.”
The young boy thanked Grandfather and said he would return with his vision once he had received it. Grandfather offered a prayer for him on his quest to find himself.
The young boy arrived at the sacred site of his ancestors. He chose a place close to the pine trees. He placed his offering of tobacco in a circle, and seated himself at the centre. Night time came quickly. He gazed at the brightness of the sky, stars and the Milky Way. It was so beautiful. He finally fell asleep.
Suddenly, he was awakened by the sound of a howling wolf in the distance. He was a bit afraid, but as the sunrise came, he felt more at ease as the sun warmed him up. He heard the birds singing as if in joy seeing the sun rise again.
There was no vision, but the boy could now see more of the land – more of nature – than he had ever noticed before. He saw a deer walk by gracefully, not taking notice of him sitting there.
He saw little creatures on the land – little bugs crawling around, little birds flying by, a butterfly that landed on his hand before flying away. It brought him so much comfort and appreciation to receive a touch and visit from such a beautiful butterfly.
Throughout the daytime, the boy witnessed and felt so much. So much was happening inside of him, his emotions running in many different directions. His mind questioned why he was there, and the land somehow kept him in the circle.
For three days and nights he could feel a transformation he was going through, and yet… there was no vision.
The fourth night came along, and he asked the Spirit for a vision. Then he drifted off to sleep.
In a dream state, he suddenly found himself surrounded by seven animals, standing around within the circle he had made. Amazing how real it all seemed!
As he sat in the center of the circle, Buffalo stepped forward and spoke.
“I am the spirit of the Buffalo. I bring you the Law of Respect. I will walk with you to teach you this law. Respect is all about giving and sharing, one of the greatest secrets to a good life. I will give you every part of my physical being to provide you with food, clothing, and every part of me to use in your life. Use my hide for the sacred drum you will hold to carry your hopes and prayers.
The Buffalo said, “I come to let you know you must now serve your people. This is what respect is – to give yourself to the people using the laws we will bring you. The greatest gift you can give your Nation is yourself, being a model and example of the Seven Sacred Laws.”
Then the Buffalo returned to his spot in the circle.
Then an Eagle that had landed from the sky slowly made his way to the young boy and said, “I, the Eagle, bring you the Law of Love. This love I bring is the essence of the Great Spirit. Love is the essence of that shining blue light that is in all of Creation. Love is the essence of your own spirit. Mother Earth is filled with this love, giving you all that you need to survive because of the love she has for all of life. Return that love to her by first loving yourself and who you are.”
Eagle said, “I can help heal your spirit. We all need love to heal properly. In love you will defeat all that is evil in your world. Every act of kindness and love will change the universe and change your world. All it needs is one to begin this change. Will you be the one?”
The Eagle then returned to his place in the circle.
The Bear then stepped forward. “I, the Grandfather Bear bring you the Law of Courage. In life you will need the spirit of courage to overcome your fears, live your true spirit, and overcome the evil you will find in the world created by humans. To walk in courage is to do the right thing – to always take the high moral road. You will need courage to live your true spirit that is your identity.
The Bear said, “I will give you the courage to become close to Mother Earth who will teach you.”
As the Bear returned to his spot, the Sabe (Sah-bay) stepped forward toward the young boy and said, “I am Sabe. Some call me Bigfoot or Sasquatch. I bring you the Law of Honesty. As you reach to live a good life, always be honest with yourself and your fellow man. To be honest is to speak from your heart. Be honest with who you are, and whatever you speak, but make sure your words show kindness for all of Creation. Don't deceive yourself or your fellow man with lies, gossip or words that could hurt anyone. Do not judge or condemn your fellow man. This will not change them, leads to anger, and will only delay teachings that they have to learn. Just be true to yourself in following the laws we have brought you.”
Sabe said, “The more honest you are in your life, the more tall you will become as I am as the Sabe. I live in the trees, watching and listening to see if you are honest. I bring medicine from the land to keep you strong and healthy. I am always there to help you.”
The Sabe touched the boy on his head with his furry hand before he returned to his spot.
The Beaver then stepped forward. He said, “I, the Beaver, bring you the Law of Wisdom. Wisdom is knowing your gifts and using these gifts to serve your fellow human beings. Living your gifts will define your identity and purpose in life. Your gifts are to help you build a world connected to the Laws we have brought, to bring peace and balance. To know wisdom is to know yourself. If I did not use the gift that I have been blessed with, my sharp teeth, to build dams, my teeth would grow long and I would get sick and eventually die. The same is true for you. If you don’t use your gifts, it will affect your health and life. Stay true to your identity and gifts. Now is the time to bring them forward to help build a new world. What are your gifts?
The Beaver returned to his place in the circle.
Then the Wolf stepped forward, bowing his head in humbleness, being in the presence of a human being. He said, “I, the Wolf, bring the Law of Humility. In life you must walk in humbleness. Never put yourself above any of your fellow human beings and never put yourself above Nature because she is our Mother. I also bring you other teachings that are good from your brothers and sisters that have arrived on your homeland we call Turtle Island. Always show gratitude for the blessings you receive in life.”
The Wolf said, “You must live the Laws we have brought you in a most humble way and we will always be here to answer your call. Walk gently on Mother Earth. Treat everyone as your brother and sister with humbleness and kindness.”
The Wolf returned to his place in the circle.
Finally, the Grandmother Turtle slowly made her way to the young boy. “Beautiful Grandson,” she said, “I bring you the Law of Truth. You ask, what is Truth? Truth is walking all the laws that have been brought to you by the spirit of the Grandfather Animals that came before me. We are Spirit Grandfathers and Grandmothers who sit at the Central Council Fire who oversee all of Creation and provide spiritual help. At times we will come to you in dreams or vision. Sometimes we will give you strong feelings, and put words in your mind to speak. When you are able to walk all Seven Sacred Laws is when you will live and walk in Truth.
“I, Turtle, represent Woman, the giver of life - your Mother Earth, and your own mother who gave you life. I bring you the ways of your ancestors, who walked with these Laws. There is so much suffering today because the people have forgotten the Laws and are walking another path that has taken them into darkness. When the human beings walk with the Seven Sacred Laws, then there will be peace.
“On my back are thirteen markings, representing the truth of the thirteen moons of the journey Mother Earth makes around Grandfather Sun, a symbol of the Great Spirit. Thirteen also represents the nine moons it takes to be created in the womb of your mother, plus the four seasons that you must follow, the four elements of life – Earth, air, water and fire, the four elements of your human nature – spirit, emotions, body, and mind, and the four directions where the Grandfathers and Grandmothers sit in the spirit world.
“Follow this trail I make for all of you, a trail made by the Seven Grandfathers. When you are able to do this, you will become free to live what your ancestors lived - Minopimatiziwin - a good life.”
The young boy suddenly awakened, knowing he had received his vision. He was excited to return to see Grandfather.
Grandfather said, “It is now your choice whether to answer the call of Spirit, my Grandson. You are free to make your choice. The Seven Sacred Laws can make you free. If you live in opposition to these Laws, you will be out of balance. Your troubles as man began when you lost touch with the Earth, the Original Mother to all life. Man became cold in the heart and allowed his gift of the mind to overwhelm the other gifts. The mind lacked the spiritual foundation to guide its thoughts and actions. It was easy for the dark energies to seize control over the minds of men to destroy life by destroying the Earth. Man has yet to awaken from this nightmare he is in.”
Grandfather looked closely at the boy. “Within the Earth sit the spirits of the Seven Grandfathers who can guide man to find his own spirit again. Only then will he wake up. Man must begin by going back to the land, your mother, who will help awaken anyone who searches for the light, for the truth. You have been given your vision, Grandson. What will be your choice?”
Dave Courchene – Nii Gaani Aki Inini (Leading Earth Man) is a respected Anishinabe Elder and Knowledge Keeper who has devoted his life to creating a healthy environment for current and future generations. He founded the Turtle Lodge International Central House of Knowledge in Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba, where he hosts International Roundtables Supporting Ancient Indigenous Knowledge, including the Onjisay Aki International Summit on Climate Change in 2017, and has initiated the Grandmother Teachings on coming-of-age and Vision Quest rites of passage for youth of all cultures.
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The seven paintings in this article were created by Turtle Lodge artist Henry Guimond, and used with permission.