What are “teachings”?
It’s a simple enough question that has a vast array of answers.
Some Anishinaabeg people think a teaching is a form of unsolicited, mystic wisdom. You sign up for a weekend event or conference, someone will no doubt provide you with some teachings.
Some think teachings are what a knowledgeable speaker says at a pow-wow. Some think it is anything that is said in a ceremony. If you go to enough ceremonies – you’ll have your share of teachings. While many others think it is history or individual knowledge given in the “oral tradition”.
Some will go so far as saying that teachings are anything that an Elder says. Well, there are just as many definitions of “Elder” as there are for “teachings”. Some think The Elder is KISS’ worst studio album.
The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come from any unsolicited, mystic wisdom. The teachings that I’m writing about don’t come from individual knowledge or someone’s life stories.
The teachings that I’m speaking of are a specific set of indigenous knowledge. In this case, Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge.
These teachings have specific wording in the Anishinaabemowin language. These teachings don’t change. Sure, words can evolve over time and can be translated; and companies will even certify your translations – but their meaning is always the same when they are given. These teachings have an origin and a specific story of their own. They also have corresponding traditional songs. Beautiful songs. Each teachings has a specific place among a multitude of places. They also have innumerable specific purposes. The teachings that I’m speaking of don’t come at random.
Believed me, these are quite different from the teachings you receive from your local Elder around the pow-wow campfire.
I’ll draw a parallel from Christianity.
Jesus Christ has teachings. Those teachings come from the Holy Bible – which is the source of Christian wisdom and contain a specific set of teachings from the Christian Lord.
But if I were to say that: Jesus came to me in a dream last night – and said that we must all wear yellow socks in honour of the crucifixion. In that dream, Jesus himself lifted his golden robe and showed me his yellow socks – which were soothing his sacred wounds. He said: “Wearing these yellow socks should be part of your ritual stigmata.” He spoke to me in ancient Arimaic, which I fully understand and speak in my dreams.
Most Christians would say “B*llsh*t!” – no matter how believable I am while I testify with my arms to the sky. And rightly so.
But when an “Elder” comes forward, honourarium paid for by the band office, and provides our communities with “teachings” – we gather in droves, like he or she is distributing loaves and fishes.
No matter how many “Elders”, “teachers”, “shamans”, “mystics”, “traditional people” and “consultants” you consult – there is only one true source of our original, Anishinaabeg teachings. The Midewiwin Lodge.
The Midewiwin, the “way of the heart”, is a society that was given the role to teach, practice and preserve the traditional knowledge and original spiritual way of the Anishinaabe people. The Midewiwin is the source of our Creation Story, the story of Waynaboozhoo, our Clan System and the Seven Grandfather Teachings. The Midewiwin hold these teachings in trust for all Anishinaabe people. In fact, our teachings tell us that the Spirit of this Lodge, Mide-mnidoo, was provided to the Anishinaabeg by the Creator to look after us and provide us with a sense of closeness and kinship to G’zhemnidoo.
We have something else in common with Christians. Anishinaabe teachings are indeed written down – contrary to the many people out there that think everything Indian people are taught comes down in the so-called oral tradition.
The wigwaas (birchbark) scrolls are an incredible record of Anishinaabe indigenous knowledge. I’ve seen these scrolls with my own eyes, and held them with my own hands. They are an incredible record of our Creation story, our history as well as our vibrant, Spiritual past and sacred teachings. Some scrolls, corresponding teachings and songs are a record of our original instructions given to us directly from the Creator. We may lack a Moses but we have our very own Anishinaabe ten commandments! Well actually, a great deal more than ten.
The Anishinaabe are no different that any other indigenous nation. Many other nations have traditional societies that look after their traditional knowledge and teachings. The best example is the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) people. The source of their knowledge is the Longhouse. No one can purport to provide Mohawk teachings or Oneida wisdom without being a sanctioned member of the Longhouse. If they did, they’d be quickly called on it: “B*llsh*t!”
Unfortunately, for the Anishinaabe, our traditional knowledge is very old and is long lost in almost every single one of our communities. Our history and prophesies tell us that the Midewiwin foreseen what would happen to our people and our ancestors chose to hide our ways and keep them secret. Unfortunately, that also worked against us. Our ways and knowledge were simply were forgotten. Our indigenous knowledge and traditional societies have long since been taken away from us and labeled as devil-worship. The Midewiwin have been replaced by more civilized values and Christianity.
However, as more and more Anishinaabe people are regaining their identity – they are seeking to learn more about their traditional ways. Some are choosing to return to those ways entirely. Sadly, a great many people – confused by the melting pot of “Aboriginal” knowledge – are swept up by new age and pow-wow spirituality. Other Anishinaabe people choose to live a hybrid life attending a plethora of ceremonies, fasting, sweat lodges, sun dances, rain dances, and round dances belonging to other nations. However, this makes them quite healthy and happy and it provides many people with fulfillment in their lives. Many are oblivious to the fact that their practices are borrowed from other nations.
However, within reach – and right under their noses – is true, Anishinaabe knowledge.
Still, many people simply don’t want to put in the work it requires to earn this knowledge. Many feel the Midewiwin are a secret society, or a selfish, protective cult holding this knowledge for themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.
All Anishinaabe people are entitled to this knowledge and are welcome to study all the Spirit will offer. However, it requires time, effort, a commitment to the society and a commitment to living a good and just life. As our Grand Chief Bawdwaywidun has always said – if you want to know: “Come to the Lodge.”