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The Seven Sacred Laws Shared Through Digital Media

Anishinaabe Elder, Dr. David Courchene with The Turtle Lodge International Centre for Indigenous Education and Wellness in Sagkeeng First Nation has been looking for an opportunity to create a project with cultural and spiritual magnitude for Indigenous peoples. He had that opportunity by creating a series of vignettes carrying the lessons of the Seven Sacred Laws. 

To recognize National Indigenous History Month, Manitoba 150 partnered with The Turtle Lodge and IG Wealth Management to create a project where Elders could share their teachings and knowledge to ensure these lessons carry into the future.

“The true identity of the First Peoples is reflected in a foundation of laws and values we know as the Seven Sacred Laws,” said Elder Dr. David Courchene. “Turtle Lodge has long wanted to do a project of this magnitude and it is through the support of IG and Manitoba 150 that this was possible.”

Although this project was the vision of Dr. Courchene, it takes a creative mind to take that vision and visualize it into a reality. Elder wrote these vignettes, Dr. David Courchene, directed and co-written by Indigenous filmmaker Erica Daniels of Peguis First Nation, and created by Manitoba’s Peg City Pictures Inc.

“This was Dave’s vision, and it’s really about his experiences going on a vision quest and having these animals come to him,” said Erica. “I’m honoured he trusted me in guiding these stories in a good way and making sure they were respected, and his story and vision were honoured.”

The values of the Seven Sacred Laws are such:

  • Grandfather Buffalo, who brings the law of Respect: “respect for all life, the land, our Elders, and people of all colours”;
  • Grandfather Eagle, who carries the law of Love – “love for the land, yourself, all life on earth, and the Great Spirit”;
  • Grandfather Bear, who delivers the law of Courage – “courage to always do the right thing and to have the strength to resist something you know isn’t right”;
  • Grandfather Sabé (a creature similar to Bigfoot), who introduces the teaching of Honesty – “to speak the truth, stay true to our values, and speak from the heart”;
  • Grandfather Beaver, who reveals the law of Wisdom – “use your gift to build a peaceful world. You will be happiest when you use your gift”;
  • Grandfather Wolf, who conveys the law of Humility – “think of others before you think of yourself”;
  • Grandmother Turtle, who brings the law of Truth – “to know truth is to live and walk with all seven sacred laws … then there will be peace”.

Dr. Courchene believes much can be learned from these ancient teachings and apply them to modern life, one being the collective responsibility we have as humankind. Those teachings include treating each other with kindness and respect and becoming real stewards of the land, creating a more beneficial world for our children and their children. 

“If we can have our young people go on a rite of passage and feel the land, I think they will take better care of it. When you can hear the voice of the land, it’s almost magical when you allow yourself to experience that. That’s been my experience on the land, and at night, the sounds multiplied, and I began to realize I’m not as big as I thought I was.”

Each episode is two to three minutes in length to fall within the fast media individuals are looking to consume, which was why animated vignettes were the perfect medium, said Erica. However, this did come with its own challenge finding ways to compress these teachings into these bite-sized pieces while ensuring the Sacred Laws’ impact was still maintained, but having these videos designed for an online format just made sense for easier access. It allowed younger generations to learn and create opportunities for conversation to take place and encourage people to seek out and learn from Indigenous Elders in their community. 

This approach of showcasing traditional First Nations’ teachings through digital and new media can help preserve the history and culture of dozens of First Nations nearly wiped off the face of the earth. Dr. Courchene and Elders he has spoken to believe they need to take advantage of this format. 

“The response they have given me, and which I support, is that we must take every opportunity we can with new media and technology to share. Of course, you can’t share ceremonies as those are very different things. But what can be shared, I will use anything I can use as it’s my responsibility, I have to share—the richness of a people who can contribute to creating a better country and a better world.”

Over the last few years, we’ve begun to see younger generations of Indigenous people heading to social media embracing their culture and heritage while simultaneously bringing awareness to colonialism and the atrocities North America’s First Peoples have endured. This new growth of Indigenous creators and content and projects like the Seven Sacred Laws vignettes are a start; Erica said there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. 

“I’m noting there is a change, but I believe we still have a long way to go. There is more advocacy for Indigenous filmmakers and diversity on film sets taking place, which is good to see. What I think needs to change is allowing us the space to tell our stories. We have our own approach, so non-Indigenous people who want to work with us collaborate with us and give us the space and opportunity to tell our stories from our perspective.”

You can find The Seven Sacred Laws vignettes in English, French, and Anishinaabe on the Turtle Lodge YouTube channel if you’d like to watch this series.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U Multicultural.

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