Indigenous communities and their Peoples are not equipped to deal with even the most basic health issues. For Indigenous Peoples, the post-colonial Western wounds present themselves in various intergenerational forms of traumas, grief and loss. Sources of trauma include: residential schools, Indian Act policies, identity politics, high suicide rates, high incarceration rates, thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women / girls / men, institutional systemic racism, and historical treaty violations.
In the absence of cultural identity or traditional knowledge, substance misuse and self-destructive behaviour becomes the inheritance we pass on. Throughout our shared history in Canada, where dysfunction is our new reality, Indigenous Peoples stumble through intergenerational trauma.
Those looking to heal from historical colonial wounds of grief, trauma and loss are having to explore methods that are culturally deaf. This historical and current systemic bias has led Indigenous Peoples to distrust colonial institutions, decreasing the effectiveness of standard Western forms of health care and counselling models for healing.
In a post-pandemic world, the discovery across Canada of thousands of unmarked graves at residential schools has awakened many to the lies taught to us all. In light of this, the mental health impact of a pandemic echoes a shift through apathy into empathy across all sectors of society. This heightened awareness is vital in an acknowledgement of the colonizer and those on the path of reconciliation with the colonized.
I propose a working model combining an Indigenous (Ojibway Anishinaabe) life way: the Sacred Seven Grandfather Teachings with contemporary grief models, most notably the expanded work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross.
Building on a broad understanding of Anishinaabek Seven Grandfather teachings of the values of humility, love, truth, respect, courage, honesty and wisdom, I have paired them with the most recent “Change Curve” model by Kübler-Ross, built from the standard five-stage model of grief to include two more stages: “shock / loss” and “testing / experimenting”, bringing the number of stages to seven.
The adaptation presented here is guided by root word teachings within each of the Seven Grandfathers as a way to better understand them individually and collectively beyond a simple translation in English.
In Anishinaabemowin / Ojibway language (North Eastern Ontario dialect), the root word for ‘earth’ is ‘aki / ki’ and for ‘heart’ is “de / ode” (o-day). The root word “i-di / di,” in words like “n’dis / n’dising” for belly button and umbilical cord denotes mutual benefit and shared connection.
Knowing these root elements gives each word a matrix of meaning. Each of these root words can be found within all seven teachings except ‘Wisdom’. To know wisdom, you need to know all the six previous teachings first.
In the visual for this bicultural model, the stages are presented within a “W” wave, similar to the “Change Curve” with indicators of potential relapse from one stage to an earlier stage. This model is a living document and in progress as I continue to research and develop this healing guide. As the field of study evolves, I seek practical and lateral links to Indigenous traditional values / teachings / teachers / healing methods. Versions of these universal values can be found in some way within all cultures.
In Kübler-Ross’s Change Curve, the ‘Testing’ or ‘Experimenting’ stage is interpreted through the Medicine Wheel teachings, reflecting the time needed by individualsto process a trauma / loss. I’ve divided this stage into a four-step process like the four seasons, with small steps always in process, a transition of growth where a person can build up the “courage”, strength and momentum like a spiral towards change and the “decision” to heal. The four steps in sequence are: facing the loss, forgiving, letting go / releasing and giving back / gifting. Giiw-saad-ka-mig! / What a loss! N’bi-gij-ne. / I am letting go. Miigwe / to give – a gift.
Renowned Anishinaabe Elder Dr. Jim Dumont speaks of a 360-degree vision to ‘accept’ a different way of seeing and then to ‘participate’ in another way of seeing the world. Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall describes Two-Eyed Seeing as “learning to see…” from both Indigenous and Western / mainstream knowledge and ways of knowing, suggesting that we need to see from both “…for the benefit of all”.
The integration of Indigenous ways of knowing within institutional systems will be more than an anecdote for change, but rather, when accepted as equal, will be a legitimate antidote to these modern wounds across cultures and beliefs.
Our Elders tell us our teachings are ‘human teachings’. The template of this model can be inferred in other geographies with colonial wounds so other cultures can apply their own ‘human teachings’.
William Morin (B.F.A., B.A Indigenous Studies, B.Ed., M.A., Ph.D Candidate) is an Anishinaabe artist from Michipicoten Anishinaabek (Mishibikwedenong) and an Indigenous activist. He has been a professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Sudbury for over 20 years. He also served in the Canadian Forces as a medical assistant during the first Gulf War. The information shared here is based on the Traditional Anishinaabek Seven Grandfather Teachings and the extended Kübler-Ross Seven Stages of Grief (cleverism.com/understanding-kubler-ross-change-curve). Other grief model teachings have been merged and expanded on by Morin, initially developed for the Niigaaniin Mino Bimaadizidaa Program.