What Indigenous knowledges can teach us about love

Elder and Grandfather share traditional teachings on the meaning of love

Elder Norman Meade, one of U of M’s Elders-in-residence, said that of the seven sacred teachings, “love may be the most sacred.” 

Meade explained the significance of Valentine’s Day, a holiday celebrating love, coinciding with the time eagles return to Manitoba. The Eagle is valued in many Indigenous nations because of the belief that it is the closest animal to Creator. Some nations believe the Eagle is a messenger, carrying prayers to the skies. 

The teaching of love is commonly associated with the Eagle. The Eagle brings back the “deep emotion of love,” Meade said. 

“We look to the Eagle as being the one that shows us and expresses that love we have for one another,” he said.

In many Indigenous cultures, dropping an eagle feather in ceremony requires a specific method of retrieval. 

The other teachings of the seven sacred teachings, or Grandfather teachings, are honesty, humility, respect, wisdom, truth and courage. Which commonly correspond to the Sabe, Wolf, Buffalo, Beaver, Turtle and Bear, although variation in the animals occurs between nations. 

Grandfather Wanbdi Wakita, who works with the U of M’s Access Program, which supports students in a holistic way, shared some traditional ceremonies which show the Creator’s love. He referenced ceremonies where people transition from one stage of life to the next, vision quests and Sun Dance ceremonies. 

“We don’t say ‘I love you’ in Dakota, but we do show it,” said Wakita. 

Wakita shared an experience he recently had where a person he had prayed over was overtaken by the strong smell of sweetgrass. He knew it was the prayer he had made for her being answered. 

“That’s Creator’s love,” he said. “We always say that in our prayers, for those who are looking for something, ‘Creator, give them a loving, give them a holiness, give them a blessing,’” Wakita said. 

Meade said that older people, younger people and animals feel depressed at times, but “love can overcome and defeat depression.” 

“In the winter months when people are feeling most depressed, that’s when we can lift their hearts and lift their spirits by showing kindness, which is the branch of the deep root of love,” said Meade.