Seven generations is a basic decision-making concept in Native American tradition. Although in our American consumer culture we tend to associate it with the concept of green products because of the now pervasive “Seven Generation” brand of eco-friendly products (Yeah!) that basically started the revolution in sustainability. It originated with the Iroquois– Great Law of the Iroquois – which holds appropriate to think seven generations ahead (about 140 years into the future) and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their children seven generations into the future.” wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability.
The seven generations concept is actually pervasive in the native culture. No person should make any major decisions affecting their life, their family, their community or their interaction with outsiders without consideration of how such decision will affect their descendants down to the seventh generation.
I don’t know if it is just my quirky mind but I always wanted to know: why 7 generations? Why not 5? Or 10? Or 3? Or 12? Somehow no one I asked seemed to have the answer.
I think I have discovered it on my own. My family is having a reunion this summer for the first time in over 20 years. My parents are now dead and thankfully all my siblings are still living.
As I was going through my family photos to share at the reunion I found a photo from my childhood. I am sitting with my great-grandmother, Elizabeth, my grandmother, Theresa, and my mother, Catherine in my communion dress when I am about 10 years old. Here are 4 generations of “Thomas” women in one picture.
Then I considered the current generations that will be at the reunion. Although I do not have children, my older sister, Ree has a son, Mark, who is generation 5, and his daughter, Amber who is generation 6 and her two sons, Andre and Tristan who are generation 7.
I have been alive and have known these 7 generations.
The decision my great-grandmother Elizabeth (or at least her family) made when she left Germany to come to the United States in the late 1800s meant that Amber and Tristan were born in this country.
The decision that my great-grandmother, Alice (my father’s grandmother) made to leave the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina in the late 1800’s with her daughter, meant that my father was born in Ohio and met my mother. I didn’t know great-grandmother Alice and I don’t know when she died. I did know my full blood Cherokee grandmother, Maude who was born on the North Carolina reservation in 1885 but grew up in Ohio. She was 65 when I was born and in her 70s and 80s when I knew her as a child. My half-Cherokee paternal grandfather died when my father was 10 years old.
My great-grandmother, Elizabeth was in her 80s when I was born and died at 97 before the next generation after ours arrived. I will most likely not be alive when Andre and Tristan have children since they are still small children.
So 7 generations are the maximum number of generations most of us can expect to be acquainted with in our lifetimes. If we live exceptionally long lives perhaps we can know more generations. As some of my nieces and nephews didn’t start their families until they were in their mid-30s, perhaps they will know fewer than 7.
Seven generations is about 140 years. I won’t live 140 years but I will have touched the end of great-grandma Elizabeth’s life as she crocheted doll clothes for my sisters and me and we ate strawberry- rhubarb pie at her house. Andre and Tristan may not know their Aunt Ariann well but they may remember an aunt they met when they were children who had moved far away and had once visited and told them stories of places she gone and things she’s done.
All these people in our families make decisions and take actions that influence us for good or ill. These are the 7 generations that affect our lives and whose lives we affect. Our health, values, world view, money consciousness, relationships, happiness and self-esteem are derived from how these people view their lives and the way we fit within them.
When we heal our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual traumas, illnesses and short-comings we will affect all our family members because family patterns don’t exist in a vacuum. They affect us all. Family members love and care about us even if we happen to live far away and don’t see or interact with them often. We are related particles and matter in this world of quantum physics.
So I think I have figured out why we need to consider 7 generations when we make decisions for ourselves. Those decisions absolutely will affect generations of family and other people who will become family for at least 140 years in the future. At my family reunion, all 8 of my parents’ children will be present, with (hopefully) 18 grandchildren (some are step grandchildren that we absolutely count), and 31 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren. The eight of us are the core of the 7 present generations. My decisions, my healing and my life count and most particularly for the 51 descendants directly related and all those that ripple out from them. Those ripples affect the planet. So do yours.
Many blessings to you and your family,