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Little Thunders— The way of the Wolf

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There are seven sacred teachings of the people of Turtle Island (North America). These teachings are universal, meaning they are recognized throughout the land and by all tribal Nations. Each teaching is represented by a clan and a spirit animal who hold these teachings. It goes like this: Love is a gift from the Eagle; truth is carried by the Turtle; respect is the gift from the Buffalo; courage is from the Bear; wisdom is carried by the Beaver; humility is the way of the Wolf.

The roots of these teachings go back for many, many thousands of years since time immemorial. Each teaching comes with many stories that we tell our children. Winter is the time that we traditionally gather and tell these stories — calling upon our ancestors and all living beings to provide us with the memories and the wisdom for what is needed. These are our medicines.

I’m sharing this with you, my community, so that you know and understand that this history is older than the trees themselves. Our elders of the Eastern Woodlands taught us that we are all related. The phrase Indinawe maaganidog means, “All my relations.” What this phrase refers to is not just other humans, but also other living things, inanimate things and the creator. The principal means that we are all at home here.

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There is no word in our languages for wilderness. For that matter, there is no word for environmentalist. If you stop to think about it, we are part of a whole — we are not apart from the land. And I am told there is nothing to be afraid of, and not to think of ourselves as better or worse, more powerful or less, than the land that we call home. We are the land.

The ancient lesson for today — and for our village — is the lesson of the way of the wolf. This ancient teaching of humility imparts strength to us all. It is told that the wolf is indeed strong alone, but it finds its greatest strength and power, and its natural preference, as a part of a pack, a community, a group and a society. Most importantly, the wolf understands it is a part of the land that it must protect. The colloquial “lone wolf” as a powerful being is a false narrative. While together, the teaching of the wolf helps us to understand that we are not meant to think of ourselves as superior.

You see, the wolves travel together, every season, every day. If there is an open field they need to cross, they will go one by one walking the same path. If they are to eat, they share, being careful not to waste. They operate as a unit. They sing together, they raise their young together. They mourn their dead together. In many of our Anishinaabe longer stories that go on and on into the night, the story of the wolf’s salvation comes when it remembers what it really means to be wolf — to be humble — to be responsible for all within the community, within nature, as we walk the same path day after day.

These lessons emerged as I thought about how our nation divides itself — never, in my lifetime, has there been such anguish over our calling out our punitive nature, our “canceling” and othering. My dear friend, Guy Jones (Hunkpapa Lakota), told me yesterday, “Indigenous people know that the Republicans and the Democrats are just two canoes in the same river.” Meaning, we all have the same destination. As you go into your work worlds, school worlds, your social worlds, remember: you will find strength in knowing that you are not separate, or greater, or lesser than all the relations surrounding you.

Miigwech (thank you).

*Knickerbocker belongs to the Anishinaabe people, is a citizen of the White Earth Nation, and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from the Ottertail Pillager band of Indians.

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