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  • Writer's pictureFinding Allostasis

Seven Foundational Principles to Live By When You Don't Know What To Do

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Should we move to Canada?

Statue of Indigenous Chief, Bemidji, Minnesota
Chief Bemidji, or Shaynowishkung (1834-1904)

Like many of you, my family and friends have had this discussion on and off over the years, usually after another unbelievable and devastating event. We try to understand our brothers and sisters who are afraid of masks, but not guns. We mull over our options when faced with the pain caused by those who value one life higher than another. How do you know when it is time to leave or stay and keep working toward change?

Allostasis is about adapting to our ever-changing environment, but it is not prescriptive. What is more adaptive – to stay or go? When are voting, marching, donating, and organizing insufficient? When do the threats of wildfires, guns, and hate-filled conspiracies become too costly to our souls? Would moving somewhere else even make a difference?

How many times indigenous people must have asked themselves questions like this while under imminent threat of colonizers. Maybe some of them discussed it with their spouses ad nauseum, disagreed, tabled it, decided to stay, chose to leave, and were forced to leave. Many were slaughtered mercilessly or slowly dehumanized no matter what they did.

Maybe that is why most conflicts that lead to loss are so deeply painful: the mercilessness. The needless, pointless, merciless harm of another human being. For what?

I am visiting Bemidji, Minnesota, originally Bemijigamaag, a beautiful northern lake town, native land of the Ojibwe people. If you look carefully past all the red and blue souvenirs and past the 18-foot Paul Bunyan and Blue Ox statues, you will see a 9-foot statue of Chief Bemidji, or Shaynowishkung (1834-1904), a peaceful leader of a small village who moved his children to the south shore of Lake Bemidji in 1882 after his wife died. He lived there for over a decade before white settlers dislocated his family to benefit railroad investors. He even offered to relinquish his tribal affiliation to keep his homestead. Can you imagine making this decision? He did it to save his home and village. Yet, to no avail; Crookston Lumber Company demolished his village three years later.

Shaynowishkung was widely known to be a leader with integrity who blended different cultures together. He lived harmoniously integrating his own culture with new settlers (demonstrated by his mixed clothing in the photo above).

Shaynowishkung followed the Seven Grandfather Teachings that have been shared for generations among Indigenous cultures from coast to coast. Whether we stay and work for change or relocate in hopes of living more peacefully, we can live by these principles that honor the freedoms and lives of all people.

  1. Humility - Dbaadendiziwin: Appreciate the accomplishments of all and avoid arrogance. Recognize the sacredness in all things and live selflessly.

  2. Bravery - Aakwa’ode’ewin: Connect with your inner strength and live with courage to be yourself and stand in love.

  3. Honesty - Nbwaakaawin: Live with integrity without seeking power or deceiving yourself or others.

  4. Wisdom - Nbwaakaawin: Be open to learning, change, and growth, so you can live by your own deep wisdom.

  5. Truth - Debwewin: Have sincerity in all you do. Hide nothing from yourself.

  6. Respect - Mnaadendimowin: Respect the balance of your own needs with the needs of others. Have honor in all of your actions and share what you have.

  7. Love - Zaagidwin: Love is the core of all of the other teachings. Love is how we live in peace with ourselves, others, and our creator.

-Read more about the Seven Grandfather Teachings here, from Uniting Three Fires Against Violence.

-Statue Artist Gareth Curtiss, Commissioned by the City of Bemidji. The Statue Committee included six of Shaynowishkung’s descendants. Photo by Jessica Del Pozo for Seven Foundational Principles to Live By When You Don't Know What To Do.



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