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A message from Ryerson’s Indigenous Elder Joanne Dallaire

How the Seven Grandparent teachings can guide us through difficult times
April 16, 2020
Joanne Dallaire

Elder Joanne Dallaire shares advice based on the Seven Grandparent teachings. Photo Credit: Stefanie Neves and Ethan Horst Mitchell.

To say that the current COVID-19 situation is an unusual and trying time is a gross understatement. To ease our sense of helplessness, it is essential for us to find something we can do to make a difference. 

In our traditional Indigenous teachings, we know that everything is about intent and the right relationship with our world.

Passed down from generation to generation, First Nations communities, such as the Ojibwe, have long referred to the Seven Grandparent teachings as a guide for their cultural foundation, human conduct and survival. Here is how they can support you during this unprecedented time:

Understand the truth that we do not know how long the pandemic will last, which leaves us feeling insecure and fearful.

Address your emotions. Journal if you have no one available who can listen.

Give thanks for what you have and speak supportive messages to yourself. Avoid negative self-talk and send loving messages to others. Ask for what you need, tell family and friends how they can support you, and ask how you can do the same for them.

Recognize that reliable information will come from trusted news sources. Respect the power of words, and speak positively to others and to yourself. Follow the guidelines given to help control the spread of the virus.

Consider that courage comes in many forms. Have a plan in place should you get sick, and confirm what people or agencies can assist you. Being prepared can help to ease anxiety.

Know the resources available to you and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is a sign of intelligence. Reach out for face-to-face communication using Zoom, Google Hangout, Facebook or Skype – to name a few. For many, seeing someone is more comforting than just hearing a voice.

Remember that there are teams of experts working around the clock to discover a vaccine and a cure. Trust in the human instinct to survive. Eat as healthily as you can, get enough sleep, drink lots of fluids and make sure you are current on the guidelines for self-care. 

You may be aware through social media that people are dancing, singing, and burning medicines, external link to assist and to show their support of essential service workers and those struggling with COVID-19. I encourage you to find something you can do regularly to show your support and to practice self-care. No matter how small, it makes a difference. 

Also, consider addressing your worries with these questions: Is this mine to fix? Have I done everything I can? Re-focus with gratitude. It is impossible to worry if you are grateful for what you have.

Remember, you are not alone in how you may feel. There is strength and comfort in numbers. Call upon your ancestors, spirit helpers, and your clan to come and support.

Support is also available remotely from Ryerson through the Medical Centre, the Centre for Student Development and Counselling, and Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS). I am also available by email at if you’d like to chat.  

If sharing with this community is a way you wish to become involved, RASS can put your support to great use — especially now. RASS is the cornerstone of culturally supportive services for Ryerson's Indigenous learners, offering traditional counselling, academic advising, peer coaching and more. It is a place of connection and belonging for our growing Indigenous community. Many Indigenous students are facing additional stress related to COVID-19, with limited access to technology and the internet, as well as food insecurity. In this particularly challenging moment, if you are able, please give to RASS to support Indigenous students in this time of critical need.

I wish each of you comfort and happiness as we move forward.

Joanne Dallaire
Elder (Ke Shay Hayo) and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation

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