My name is Hank Bailey. I am an Anishinaabe and a Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians tribal member who is Odawa (Ottawa in English) of the Black Wolf Clan. I also am a father, grandfather, Elder, and traditional dancer. I work for the Grand Traverse Band’s Natural Resources Department as a Fish & Wildlife Technician as well as the Natural Resources Department Liaison.
I was recently asked to explain a little bit about what Native Americans mean when they say they are trying to “Walk in a Good Way.” I thought it would be easy to explain, but when thinking it over, I realized it would not be as easy as I originally thought. I think the best way to try to explain it would be to just look at it from my point of view.
Walking in a Good Way is what I think about when I reflect on my journey through life. What is the Path I will choose? What are the steps I will make while on this journey? What impact – good or bad – will my steps have on the world around me? Will I be able to look back on my journey and feel proud? Have I truly tried to “Walk in a Good Way?”
My knowledge of our traditions is somewhat limited and I think I am in the same canoe as many of my fellow tribal members. There are many reasons why a lot of us are struggling to retain and live by our teachings. I will not go into those reasons now and I will not let this stop me from choosing a good road. The truth is I do know enough tradition to help guide me on a good path!
One of the first things I think of when reflecting on my life is what we refer to as the Circle of Life. We have many teachings about this that are found in what is known as the Medicine Wheel. The Circle of Life encompasses everything that we know of and many many things that are out of our view. As you picture a circle, think about the fact that the circle does not end. This is my view on life: EVERYTHING has its place in the circle. To keep harmony and balance in the world I must do what I can to help keep the circle intact by not destroying parts of it to the point that they are lost. To achieve this, one must have respect for all things. Sometimes this is not easy.
One of our teachings that helps us to work in this direction is what is known as the Seven Grandfather Teachings. These seven teachings are: Love, Respect, Courage, Humility, Truth, Honesty & Wisdom. Each and every one of the questions that come to us in life can be answered by thinking of the Circle of Life and the Seven Grandfather Teachings.
What I find is that I may not take the time I need to think about these things. This is something simple but hard to achieve at times. The saying, “taking time to smell the roses,” is very true. We all need to make time where we can be “alone.” This will allow us to think about our life and the direction we are heading. This also allows us to see the beauty in nature and in turn have respect for it.
A teaching I follow is the use of Asemah “tobacco.” We are taught to always use Asemah in a respectful way. We are told to greet each new day by offering a bit of Asemah by laying some on the ground or near a tree or using a pwaagan (pipe). This also helps us to start the new day in a good way by having good energy and positive thoughts. We also are taught to use Asemah as an offering when we harvest something from Mother Earth. This helps us to remember the importance of whatever we may be taking to use. This is to show respect so that we do not take more than we need and therefore do not harm the resource.
When the newcomers to our land saw how beautiful and plentiful the land was on arrival, I believe they did not understand that our teachings and ways of looking at the world were the reason everything was pristine when they saw this new place.
This way of looking at the world and how we are to fit into it translates into a simple thing such as the way I dance as a traditional dancer. I have seen in Hollywood movies where it shows us stomping around on the ground while we are dancing. Th e truth is we are taught to step lightly on Mother Earth, just as we are to walk on Mother Earth in life without leaving much of a footprint. As little disturbance as possible is the way to go. So, therefore we step as lightly as possible while dancing.
Another example of why the area we inhabited looked as it did is what is known as the Seventh Generation philosophy. This way of looking at our world describes how we are to do things. For example, if we are building something, we need to think about how this will affect those coming in the seventh generation. Will whatever we are doing now have a negative or positive effect on the place and those that will be coming?
In reflecting on what it means to “Walk in a Good Way,” it means many things and is truly a way of going through life with leaving the smallest footprint possible, and thinking carefully about the choices you make.
The best way to get started is to take time out from our everyday lives to pause and look around ourselves. When we slow down it gives us time to think about how we are treating our fellow human beings, how are we treating Mother Earth and all she has to offer. Learn to be in balance, stay positive, work to be a helper and a nurturer. Strive to have a good rhythm/balance with all things. Leave as little disturbance as possible. Look for the beauty in Mother Nature ‘s creations.
Ask yourself this question: Am I Walking in a Good Way?
Hank Bailey is now retired from his work as a natural resources technician. He lives in Leelanau County, Michigan. Nature Change thanks the Grand Traverse Resort for the opportunity to re-print this wonderful essay by Hank Bailey