Indigenous Values


First Nations, Métis, and Inuit share similar values, which are foundational to leadership. For this guide, the seven values articulated by Nishnaabeg author Leanne Simpson (2011) in her book Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-Creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence (pp. 124–127) provide the vehicle or vessel for the journey. Kokum Dibaajimowinan, the grandmothers’ teachings around courage, truth, respect, love, honesty, wisdom, and humility, are common values typically reflected in Indigenous teachings.

Aakde’ewin (Courage)

The Nishaabeg have the phrase Aakde’ewin, which translates as “courage” or the “art of being brave.” Simpson describes it as meaning “strong-hearted” – “not in the physical sense, but in relation to Debwewin (truth). Aakde’yin might be used to describe the weakest person physically, but this kind of strength comes from knowing who one is, grounding in self-knowledge.”

Debwewin (Truth)

The art of truth, or Debwewin, also translates as “sound of the heart,” where speaking from the heart is emphasized. Understanding Debwewin means knowing what it takes to be a good human being. Simpson adds, “being a good person was being a person whose word you could trust.”

Mnaadendiwin (Respect)

Mnaadendiwin translates as “respect” or the “art of respect” – the act of deeply cherishing each other. We are to work toward seeing each other and cherishing each other for who we are, and in doing so we become one. Simpson adds, “We become a family of deeply cherished individuals of one mind.”

Zaagidewin (Love)

Zaagidewin translates as “love.” It is unconditional love, which is “similar to the qualities expressed in Gzhwe (great mystery, Creator). He spoke of one bearing their soul and heart nakedly, expressing a complete vulnerability, reminding me of a newborn baby. When one comes to another bearing his or her soul, completely trusting that the other person will be non-judgmental, caring and gentle, he or she come expecting acceptance, gentleness, kindness and nurturing.”

Gwekwaadiziwin (Honesty)

Gwekwaadiziwin describes living a straight or honest life. Another term for this value is Kaazhaadizi. A person with Kaazhaadizi embodies love, is totally giving, and openly accepts another person. Simply, it is to be kind.

Nbwaakawin (Wisdom)

“One way that gentleness, kindness and humility are expressed in our intellectual pursuits is through the concept of Nbwaakawin, commonly translated as knowledge,” Simpson writes. Nbwaakawin “means to put others before one’s own self. In other words, you can think about yourself after you have thought about others, so that even though you might have knowledge or know about a particular concept, you cannot always show what you know. In a sense Nbwaakawin keeps ego in check.”

Dbadendiziwin (Humility)

Simpson concludes with Dbadendiziwin, the art of humility or humbleness, which “is to never look upon yourself as being better than anyone else.” Dbadendiziwin also means to look after or maintain oneself.