Below is some key information regarding traditional ceremonies and cultural protocol. Please note that Seven Generations Education Institute respects and embraces different beliefs as in many cultures, there isn’t only one way of doing things.
Spring and Fall Feasts
Just like humans, sacred items need to be sustained with food and water. We do this by feasting. At minimum, Gookomisinaan and Saagajiwe (as well as the sacred items we carry) need to be feasted twice throughout the year. To feast, we offer food, water and asemaa (tobacco) and make spirit dishes (birchbark dishes with a bit of food) during ceremonies in Spring, before the leaves reach the size of a muskrat’s ear, and Fall, before the leaves have fallen. At these ceremonies, the drum is sounded and staffs are lifted.
In between these ceremonies, we offer asemaa (tobacco) to the drum, staff and other sacred items present when we visit or sit with them for support. Also, we regularly smudge all sacred items and light the pipe to acknowledge them.
In Anishinaabe culture, the effort of gift giving is like spiritual currency. During ceremony, SGEI staff may prepare a giveaway blanket with cloth, tobacco and practical household items for those who might appreciate it. Giveaway recipients are sometimes selected out of compassion and support. During one of the songs, the blanket will be tied up. The asemaa (tobacco) that has been offered for previous months will be collected in a cloth bag and included inside the giveaway blanket, and put out or burned as an offering by a person in the community which receives it.
People can bring their own sacred items in to be feasted along with Saagajige and Gookomisinaan (including shakers, feathers, etc.) If you have a sacred item to feast, a blanket will be placed near the drum and it can be placed upon it to partake in the feasting.
In Anishinaabe culture, some women choose to wear skirts to ceremony. In some places, this was traditionally done. SGEI encourages women to dress according to their own teachings or however they feel most comfortable.
When entering the room
Unless otherwise requested, when entering a room where a ceremony is taking place, walk clockwise to your seat.
Walking around the drum or staff
A space is left in between the drum and staff for people to walk when offering tobacco. We ask that you please refrain from stepping over the drum and staff as it is a sign of disrespect.
During a ceremony, a person may walk around to all attendees with a shell, feather and dried mashkodewash (sage) producing smoke called smudge. Smudging is for cleansing the spirit, getting rid of heaviness, stress, and negativity for both humans and sacred items. To smudge yourself, simply wave smoke toward yourself. Smudging is optional. If you wish not to smudge, simply say no thank you.
Berries, water and other food
During a ceremony, a person may walk around to all attendees with berries, water or other foods. This food is eaten by ceremony attendees and some may be reserved for a spirit dish for the drum and staff. Accepting food and water is optional. If you wish not to have any, simply say no thank you. If you do, you are sharing in the feast with the drum, eagle staff, and sacred items.
Tobacco is typically given out of respect, when asking someone for something, to signify giving before taking and when asking advice. During ceremony, someone may offer tobacco to attendees. Taking and offering tobacco is optional. It is okay to simply say no thank you if you wish not to participate.
If you choose to accept tobacco, teachings say that your energy and intention is transferred into it. At some point during the ceremony, attendees have the opportunity to offer tobacco
- In the dish at the base of the grandmother eagle staff
- In the red bag attached to the grandfather drum on the red directional staff
- In the birchbark basket that holds two grandfather stones
If you prefer, you may also place your tobacco in a body of water or at the base of a tree at a location of your choice.
Women on their moon time
Women on their moon time (during menstruation) are asked to participate in a limited capacity during ceremony. During this time, women are welcome to attend ceremony, smudge is they wish, consume berries and water, but are asked to keep a respectful distance from the drum and staff. This includes refraining from offering tobacco, holding a staff, passing out berries and water, preparing spirit dishes and smudging others.
During ceremonies, drummers typically sing the following four songs:
- The Pipe song
- The Saagajiwe song
- An Honour song
- The Travelling Song (or sometimes the Miigwech song)
The pipe song and lighting of the pipe signifies that the ceremony has begun and acknowledges the pipe and helpers in the directions. The Saagajiwe song came to the late elder Tommy White following the drum’s birthing ceremony. The words, “Giizhigong iniin eyaayaan ganawaabaminagoog,” means “I (the spirit of the drum) am in the sky watching over you all (in a good way).” The Honour and Miigwech song are to honour and thank all of our relatives. A travelling song signifies a prayer for safe travels for those in attendance.
When drumming and songs are sung, some may choose to stand.
Drummers and staff holders
In the territory, men and women from each of the ten governing communities sit and stand at the drum. The men sing as they sit at the drum. The Ogichitaakwewag (female staff holders) stand behind the singers and lift the four small staffs.
If no selected Ogichitaakwewag are present, any women with ties to any of our ten governing communities wearing a ribbon skirt connected to the drum may hold the four staffs. The four official Ogichitaakwewag ribbon skirts, made by Lori Yerxa from Couchiching First Nation, correspond to the directional staff colours.
If photos are being taken during a ceremony, please refrain from photographing during the pipe song, during prayer, or when the pipe is lit.