Protecting our children, seven generations ahead


Protecting our children, seven generations ahead[1]

By Patrick Wolfe

The sagacity of making decisions based on their impact seven generations into the future is well known. But do you know the source of this wisdom?

Given global warming and the climate crisis, an argument can be made that this prudent seventh-generation concept is an example of progressive revelation, even though it has long been an outlier philosophy that today remains far from the world’s economic mainstream, despite the environmental catastrophe that is knocking ever louder at our collective front door.

Progressive revelation from a Christian perspective, according to Wikipedia, is the doctrine “that the sections of the Bible that were written later contain a fuller revelation of God than the earlier sections.”[2] The Baha’i provide an alternate and broader perspective. It “suggests that religious truth is revealed by God progressively and cyclically over time through a series of divine Messengers, and that the teachings are tailored to suit the needs of the time and place of their appearance.”[3] The Baha’i view supports my theme, which points to First Nations’ wisdom and the need of our dominant culture to reconcile with it.

Oren Lyons, 92, is a Turtle Clan wisdom carrier and faithkeeper among western New York’s Onondaga people, one of the Six Nations, also known as the Iroquois Confederacy and the Haudenosaunee.[4] While a professor of American Studies and director of the Native American Studies Program at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Chief Lyons helped establish the United Nations working group on Indigenous peoples in 1982.[5]

According to Chief Lyons, about one thousand years ago, the Haudenosaunee were visited by the Peace Maker, also known as “the Messenger,” a spiritual being sent by the Creator. The Peace Maker ended a period of war among the tribes, presented them with the Great Law of Peace, and told the Haudenosaunee leaders, “when you counsel for the welfare of the people, then think not of yourself, nor of your family, nor even your generation. Make your decisions on behalf of the seventh generation coming. You who see far into the future, that is your responsibility: to look out for those generations that are helpless, that are completely at our mercy. We must protect them.”[6]

The Peace Maker also instructed the Haudenosaunee in a democratic system of self-governing, stressed that diversity in human society is needed for sustainability and rejuvenation, and urged the practice of thanksgiving.[7]

The statement, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children,” which has been identified as a Native American proverb and has also been credited to Chief Seattle (among other later individuals), is a variation on the Peace Maker’s seventh-generation teaching.[8]

But, as noted, this wisdom has never been widely adopted, let alone since the industrial revolution. Chief Lyons has spoken repeatedly about world leaders’ lack of will and their “failure to challenge the economic forces tearing apart human communities the world over, and the Earth itself.”[9]

“It’s up to each generation,” he has said. “There are no guarantees.”[10]

We may no longer have seven generations. Global warming, now at 1.1 C since pre-industrial times, has increasingly been wrecking havoc. To achieve the 2015 Paris Accord’s secondary goal of limiting warming to 2 C, we need to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030. But global carbon emissions are expected “to be 16 per cent higher in 2030 than they were in 2010.”[11] Accordingly, an end-of-century temperature increase of 2.4 to 3.5 C. has been forecast.[12] To quickly turn around these negative trendlines is the shared responsibility of all who care.

Patrick Wolfe has an abiding interest in grace and the mystic. His book, A Snake on the Heart – History, Mystery, and Truth: The Entangled Journeys of a Biographer and His Nazi Subject, will be published by Iguana Books later this year.

  1. This article was published in the Victoria Times Colonist, Saturday, August 27, 2022, C4, and on its “Spiritually Speaking” blog the same day,
  2. Progressive revelation (Christianity), WIKIPEDIA, – accessed August 15, 2022.
  3. – accessed June 7, 2022.
  4. Barry Lopez, “The Leadership Imperative” (profile of and interview with Oren Lyons), Orion Magazine, January/February 2007 – accessed April 8, 2021 (when it was distributed via DAILYGOOD).
  5. – accessed June 7, 2022.
  6. Barry Lopez.
  7. Barry Lopez.
  8. – accessed June 7, 2022.
  9. Barry Lopez.
  10. Barry Lopez.
  11. Kate Abnett, “Young activists’ climate-change protests go global,” The Globe and Mail, September 25, 2021, A26.
  12. Frank Jordans and Seth Borenstein (The Associated Press), “UN report warns Earth ‘firmly on track toward an unlivable world’,” Victoria Times Colonist, April 5, 2022, A12.


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