Making the Seventh Generation Food and Agriculture Connection

Many of us have heard of the term “seventh generation.” The words come from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation.

A common, summarized and short version of “seventh generation” derived from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nation that most of us have heard of is “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”

The Constitution of the Iroquois Nation (The Great Binding Law) explains “seventh generation” philosophy as follows:

“The thickness of your skin shall be seven spans — which is to say that you shall be proof against anger, offensive actions and criticism.   Your heart shall be filled with peace and good will and your mind filled with a yearning for the welfare of the people of the Confederacy.  With endless patience you shall carry out your duty and your firmness shall be tempered with tenderness for your people.  Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in your mind and all your words and actions shall be marked with calm deliberation.  In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self interest shall be cast into oblivion.  Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right.  Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground — the unborn of the future Nation.” 

This philosophy is not unique to just the Iroquois nation. Many Native American nations and tribes and other indigenous people around the world have and still do live by this philosophy as well. They may not all explicitly call it “seventh generation” thinking but it is evident through their oral (and now written) histories, actions, and ways of life that they share this important, virtuous and selfless way of life as well.

The clear message of “seventh generation” living is to think seventh generations ahead and act in ways that benefit, not sacrifice, the future generations, specifically the seventh generation after us. People usually associate this with a ecological actions and thinking, but it is more than that. Indeed, ecological acts and ways of life are a big part of seventh generation thinking and indigenous life and livelihood, but that’s not the whole story. Since everything is connected you really can’t separate out the ecological without thinking about how it affects other parts of our interconnected world and lives.

An interesting aspect of seventh generation that I have read about is thinking of your generation as all of the seven generations. You are the first generation acting, making choices and leaving your legacy for the seventh generation in front of you. You are also the seventh generation that benefits (and in some cases suffers) from the actions, sacrifices and generosity of the people that lived seven generations before you. You are also the second, third, fourth and so on.

This is by no means a full summary of seventh generation in its totality. It is rather a starting point to start thinking about how we can use this knowledge and wisdom in today’s world for our benefit when we make decisions about our agriculture, food systems, food choices and actions.

M. Kat Anderson’s book Tending the Wild is a great resource and history of how the Native American’s in California worked with the land in their agricultural and land management practices. Many of these principles are used today and many more could be implemented for our long-term benefit.

Some questions to ponder with seventh generation thinking in mind:

  • What does it mean for the future to support out local farmers and ranchers instead of supporting factory farms and industrialized food operations?
  • How could permaculture and sustainable farming practices we implement today benefit the seventh generation?
  • What affect could GMOs have seven generations from now?
  • What does the affect of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides mean for the future of our soil, land and human health?
  • What is the real “cost” of our food to the seventh generation?
  • How do our current national, state and local policies benefit and/or hinder the seventh generation?
  • What changes in our food choices and agriculture practices could benefit the seventh generation?
  • What kind of legacy do we leave behind? Not only our personal or family legacy, but also the legacy of our generation as a whole.

Please comment. Take care and thanks for reading!

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