Evaluators working with Indigenous peoples and communities are often advised to become familiar with a Native community’s social, cultural, and spiritual values before beginning a project. As an evaluation community, how can we be more intentional about moving beyond mere familiarity and acknowledgement of these value systems to actively centering them in our evaluation work?
We are Drs. Linda Sue Warner (Comanche) and Jeremy Braithwaite from EvaluACT and we recently completed an evaluation study with the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe where we grappled with this exact question.
What are the Seven Grandfather Teachings?
For some Indigenous peoples, the Seven Grandfather Teachings constitute the foundation of Indigenous ways of living and being. They are among the most commonly shared teachings among the Anishinaabe people. Though many interpretations and origin stories of the Seven Grandfather Teachings exist, all share the following principles:
- Gwayakwaadiziwin— Honesty
- Minaadendamowin— Respect
- Nibwaakaawin – Wisdom
Tribal Youth Media Project
Professor Emerita Patty Lowe (Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe) began the Tribal Youth Media workshops in 2006. She works extensively with Native youth, teaching digital storytelling skills as a way to prepare the next generation of Native storytellers and land stewards. This project is a component of an NSF-funded documentary project examining climate shifts through the lens of polar landscapes. The workshop convened for three weeks in the Summer of 2022. Up until this point, TYM had never undergone an external evaluation.
Seven Grandfather Teachings Framework
We undertook a significant and culturally respectful process to translate the Seven Grandfather Teachings into an evaluation framework. Collaborating closely with Tribal elders, as they provided invaluable guidance and insight into the cultural significance of these teachings, we defined all our evaluation processes and protocols around these Teachings. This epistemological grounding served as the foundation for our project, bridging the gap between traditional indigenous wisdom and modern evaluation methods.
The Seven Grandfather Teachings are not merely symbolic, but practical values that guide daily life. Recognizing this, we defined each of these teachings within the specific context of our project and life stage of youth participants, ensuring that their essence and relevance were maintained. This step was crucial to uphold the integrity of the Teachings and honor their cultural importance.The creation of a framework based on these definitions allowed us to observe and assess the project’s process and impact meaningfully and respectfully.
Translating the Seven Grandfather Teachings into an evaluation framework was not just a technical step, but an act of cultural respect and reciprocity. It allowed us to authentically engage with the community’s values and wisdom. By grounding our work in the Seven Grandfather Teachings, we provide a culturally sensitive and community-centered approach that emphasizes holistic understanding, long-term sustainability, cultural relevance, and Indigenous knowledge. By using local cultural values and worldviews to evaluate this project, we model deference to Indigenous knowledge systems and demonstrate their relevance to contemporary projects—using rigorous analysis and accurate, nuanced understanding while building on the strengths and assets in the community. In contrast to standard western methods, the focus is not just on immediate outcomes and impacts, but also the broader context, including cultural, social, environmental, and spiritual aspects of the project.
Check out our final evaluation report to see how we centered the Seven Grandfather Teachings in guiding all aspects of the Tribal Youth Media Workshop evaluation.
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