Mino-Bimaadiziwin as Epistemology
Knowing, Learning, and Understanding in Indigenous Education
Mino-Bimaadiziwin is a philosophical concept deeply rooted in Anishinaabe and Cree worldviews. Properly translating Mino-Bimaadiziwin into English is difficult, but there are many ways this philosophical concept can be expressed. Essentially it means “good path;” “good life;” “good mind;” “good way” (Bedard, 2008, p. 190); “a worthwhile life;” “a long, fulfilling life;” “our walk in life;” or “walking the straight path in life” (Debassige, 2010, p. 17).
Community Elder Perspectives on Mino-Bimaadiziwin
TMCC conducted listening sessions with community elders to gain insights on what mino-bimaadiziwin means to the local community, and what steps the college can take to guide learners at critical stages of their personal journeys. A unanimous concern shared by the elder group identified that not knowing who you are, at any age, causes internal despair, and this can lead to a variety of problems for the individual, and for the community. In discussing this concern, the role of the college (and other indigenous education systems more broadly) was evident in serving as a “new home” for all learners. Through the college, learners need to understand why the search for language, culture, community, and identity will help with their well being and that of the broader community.
Specifically, learning Ojibwemowin leads to a firmer identity, and being secure in who you are; identity and the language are intertwined, and all must participate in promoting the language. Educational employees, therefore, have responsibility to guide and be involved with students who are on this search in a critical stage of life and learning. Culture cannot be siloed to specific courses; instead, it must be holistic and integrated throughout the student experience consistently. Students need to be immersed in the culture, and instructors and others have an obligation to reinforce this. This is the purpose of an indigenous college: to support and advance student identity.
The community, as with many indigenous communities, has a deep history of hardship, and this has caused a pattern of reacting to trauma, rather than proactive ways of healing and strengthening community dynamics. Avoiding assumptions of deficit or upholding low expectations in learners is helpful to facilitate a learning relationship based on trust and good faith. Many within the community are caught in the middle between ancestral ways of knowing and living, and the values and worldviews influenced by mainstream, modern society in North America. One specific way this is manifested even within the college and other schools is through hierarchical or competitive grades expressed through student learning. Instructors and other guides must place greater emphasis on the potential of the individual to contribute meaningfully from their learning, rather than focusing on the importance of the letter grade, which can lead to jealousy, fear, or distrust; indigenous people are not motivated by hierarchical rankings, and purpose interwoven with learning needs to be evident. Identity and purpose are a solution to community-wide problems; if people find out who they are and have confidence and affirmation in this, it provides healing, and it shows a better way of living. It’s conceivable that the college can facilitate these teachings going out to every family, and the community as a whole can improve as a result. Educational employees need to be able to support students in ways to promote this healing, as this will establish a stronger foundation for everyone. Given this responsibility, educational guides need as many tools as possible to understand how this support can take place, and educational organizations as whole need to be safe places for learning to flourish.
Understanding connection to the spirit is of utmost importance, as this helps to explain how learning occurs. We come from the Creator and arrive on earth (aki) for a reason. Before we get here, there is an agreement on what we are supposed to do before we are here. As Anishinaabe, we are expected to learn our whole life. Learning comes from connection to the spirit, from fasting, and, importantly, learning also comes from an individual’s connection to the natural world and to animals, all of which provide rich opportunities for intellectual and spiritual development and growth. Animals specifically serve as a source of rich learning, as they exist to take care of the people, to teach them about life, and to provide lessons for living well, as depicted in countless traditional stories and teachings. Sharing knowledge with each other is also part of the learning process. Understanding that we all have a purpose (and that it is the individual’s and the community’s obligation to reveal it) can help learners on their path through life as they accumulate knowledge and understanding.
Another important idea that builds upon the connection to the natural world is that community healing is tied to the interconnectedness of the individual to all of Creation. Though supporting every individual person is critical, an individual must be mindful of their connection to other things. Most important is the Creator, then the earth (aki), then all living things, then the community, and then the self. This means that the purpose of the individual is to connect to and support the family and the community and all other things before the self; it is never about serving oneself. In this way, an educational organization has the potential to impart reciprocal worldviews into its learners; it’s not about the individual’s benefits from higher education, but what they can contribute as a result of degree and skills attainment. Just as in ceremony, in life, no one person is better than any other, and all people stand a chance to contribute to a good life for one another.
Once students find strength in their language, identity, and purpose, the values inherent in the seven teachings come naturally, and do not need to be taught explicitly. In other words, ideally, we could take these teachings “off the wall” and make them integrated as a part of ourselves. The goal is to reinforce learners’ identities so strongly that teaching these things explicitly is unnecessary. Once a learner understands the guideposts for their path, revelations will become known about themselves, their strengths, and the ways in which they can live a good life. In other words, the spirit will reveal itself, and the learner needs to embrace it. If that spirit is recognized and nurtured by the learner, s/he will learn these teachings and the language easier. More broadly within the institution, if we are living in these ways, things like rules of order are unnecessary, as respect would be inherent in how we treat one another. As described herein, animals are critical for teaching lessons, and this is also true with the seven teachings, as each of the teachings is associated with an animal meant to provide guidance on how that teaching may be lived.
Students graduating (or otherwise departing) from the college need to have strong identity, purpose, and values so as to provide a strong foundation for meaningful impact of the learner. And even though the graduate has completed a sequence of study within the college, as Anishinaabe, we are obligated to continue learning for our entire lives. Also, the focus is not necessarily on an individual graduate, but what they have contributed along the way, and what they have potential to contribute after they have emerged from their formal studies.
Broadly, the college needs to always do more to support the community. It has the potential to lead community healing in profound ways, and it cannot take this obligation for granted.
Mino-Bimaadiziwin in Higher Education
Mino-Bimaadiziwin as a worldview has inherent and natural connections to the process of teaching and learning in higher education, and publications grounded in indigenous understandings provide helpful depictions of this. Some examples are as follows:
- It is necessary to have a clear goal grounded in wellness, harmony, and healing (Rhealt, XXV; Bresette, 2008, p. 103).
- A person takes responsibility for their own healing (Hart, 2002, as cited in Bell, 2011, p. 9), which could be connected to enrolling in a tribal higher education institution.
- Mino-Bimaadiziwin ‘is seen by many people as the overall goal of healing, learning, and life in general’ (Hart, 2002, as cited in Bell, 2011, p. 44).
- Wellness comes from engaging in the “intellectual tradition of inquiry and discussion [that] is central to Anishinaabe philosophy…” (Rhealt, 1999, p. 61).
- Reflection on and response to previous experiences and learning leads to a higher sense of balance and wellness (Bresette, 2008, p. 103).
- Acknowledgement that everyone has certain gifts that can be used in a good way, and that seeking these out is a part of individual action (Hart, 2002, as cited in Bell, p. 9).
In other words, the notion of Mino-Bimaadiziwin is inherently applicable to pedagogical practice in higher education. According to this worldview, a person must pursue balance in life by encountering new information, experiences, and guides at critical life intervals–all of which occur regularly within higher education through student-faculty and/or student-staff interactions. By encountering new ideas, knowledge, and experiences, students constantly have the opportunity to determine sensible application to their own educational, professional, and personal journey. The purpose of a high grade in class is not self-contained within that classroom or even within the institution, and the learning covered is not discarded. Instead, a high grade indicates that learning experienced in that class can have life-long implications—and indicates that the learner is capable of applying knowledge, skills, and perspective gained. Whether classroom learning is related to a specific technical skill, understanding diverse perspectives, or an increased ability to think critically, finding ways to apply this in the future is the goal of each person involved, educators and students alike.
Stages of life that students are typically in during higher education studies also merit consideration (Bell, 2011, pp. 11-12). Faculty, support staff, and institutional leaders all have an obligation to support students to ensure that they properly undergo a guided process of inquiry, goal setting, and life planning for the time after higher education is completed and in a way that is suitable to their respective life stages.
Mino-Bimaadiziwin and the Medicine Wheel
Mino-Bimaadiziwin and the Anishinaabe medicine wheel overlap in meaningful ways, as depicted below:
- East direction: Awareness. A student must first become aware of important conditions, dynamics, and/or problems in life.
- South direction: Understanding. A student begins to gain relational understanding to awareness previously gained, and sufficient time engaged with learning content allows for this to occur.
- West direction: Knowledge. A student gains a deeper understanding such that they can be considered knowledgeable and possibly skilled within a specific subject area, and s/he can apply learning in nearly any situation.
- North direction: Wisdom. After a student graduates, they are able to apply “movement” to their learning, which means that they can apply everything gained in previous stages to improve conditions associated with the learning that they have accumulated.
(Bell, 2011, p. 18)
In other words, the medicine wheel provides one conceptual framework describing how Mino-Bimaadiziwin can be sought via the learning process specifically.
Mino-Bimaadiziwin implies numerous principles that further guide an individual’s values, learning, and pathway toward Mino-Bimaadiziwin. Perhaps the most common guiding principles are the seven grandfather teachings (also known as the seven gifts):
To cherish knowledge is to know WISDOM
To know LOVE is to know peace
To honor all of Creation is to have RESPECT
BRAVERY is to face the foe with integrity
HONESTY in facing a situation is to be brave
HUMILITY is to know yourself as a sacred part of Creation
TRUTH is to know all of these things
“These Seven Gifts begin and end with knowledge and the ability to know. This is the beginning and end of being a good person. Life becomes ‘something-lived’ based on reflection…[Knowledge] is the first step in a philosophical apprehension of existence. Knowledge is the means to being a good person” (Rhealt, 1999, p. 95). It goes without saying that engaging with knowledge is a cornerstone of higher education—and with the act of teaching comes a responsibility for guiding learners through the stages of reflection, real-world application, and purpose.
Though the seven teachings are a powerful, succinct set of guiding principles, there are many others embedded in Mino-Bimaadiziwin, some of which are included here:
- Biskaabiyaang is an inward search/return for ancestral knowledge and teachings that begins the journey of coming to know Anishinaabe mino-bimaadiziwin (Debassige, 2010)
- Anishinaabemowin is our original way of speaking which allows us to process and express our thoughts.
- Anishinaabe lnaadiziwin is our behaviour, our values and our way of living our life, and being Anishinaabe in the fullest sense.
- Anishinaabe lnendamowin is our way of thinking, our way of perceiving and of formulating thought resonating from our Anishinaabe beliefs and foundational truths.
- Anishinaabe Gikendaasowin is our knowledge and way of knowing.
- Anishinaabe Izhichigewin is our Anishinaabe way of doing things.
- Anishinaabe Enawendiwin is our way of relating to Spirit, to each other and to all of Creation.
- Gidakiiminaan is our connection and relationship to the land and all of Creation (Annual Report, 6).
- Kendaaswin (knowledge)
- Aazhikenimonenaadizid Bemaadizid (the study of the way/behavior of life)
- Eyaa’oyaanh (identity) (Rhealt, 1999, p. 72)
Attempting to encompass these principles throughout a student’s higher education experience can facilitate a supportive and balanced educational journey that primes the learner for a purposeful departure from the educational system, regardless of the program of study. Additionally, a graduate with explicit educational emphasis on these principles will display improved “marketable” job traits, such as critical thinking skills, empathy, groundedness, confidence, and clear communication skills. A firm sense of community need also empowers a student to self-identify as an agent of change within it, if so chosen, though it is understood that some students will exit the community and express their skills externally for a variety of reasons.
Given this, how we guide our students is a critical driving force for how education is approached throughout our system, and Mino-Bimaadiziwin may serve as a framework for contextualizing all forms of learning, skills development, and application at TMCC and afterwards.
“Annual Report.” Seven Generations Education Institute, www.7generations.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2018AnnualReport.pdf. Accessed 6 Oct. 2021.
Bédard, R. E. M. K. (2008). Role Models: An Anishinaabe-Kwe Perspective. Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de La Femme, 26(3,4), 189–192.
Bell, Nicole. Indigenous Perspectives on Education for Well-Being in Canada. Edited by Frank Deer and Thomas Falkenberg, Education for Sustainable Well-Being Press, 2016. Re-conceptualizing Anishinaabe Mino-Bimaadiziwin (the Good Life) as Research Methodology: A Spirit-centered Way in Anishinaabe Research. (2011). Canadian Journal of Native Education, 33(1), 11–28.
Bressette, Christy Rochelle. “Understanding Success in Community First Nation Education through Anishinabe Meno-Bimaddziwin Research.” The University of Western Ontario, Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Western Ontario, 2008.
Debassige, B. (2010). Re-conceptualizing Anishinaabe Mino-Bimaadiziwin (the Good Life) as research methodology: A spirit-centered way in Anishinaabe research. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 33(1), 11-28.
Rheault, D. R. R. I. (1999). Anishinaabe Mino-Bimaadiziwin—The Way of a Good Life.
“Seven Sacred Teachings Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewin.” http://www.btgwinnipeg.ca/uploads/5/2/4/1/52412159/the_seven_sacred_teachings_.pdf. Retrieved Aug. 29, 2022.
Turtle Lodge. (2021, June 2.) Episode 1: The Creation Story | The Seven Sacred Laws [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tGQ3SyIBA0
Turtle Lodge. (n.d.) Home [YouTube channel]. YouTube. Retrieved Aug. 29, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/c/TurtleLodge