The seven generations principle

Debate about the future of our world often centres around issues such as climate change, population growth in cities, food and water sustainability. We often hear reference to the legacy we will leave for future generations, however, our society tends not to evolve in most other ways with this in mind. Indigenous cultures around the world have placed this principle alongside the respect for what has come before as central to their thinking about the world they live in. In Native American culture this is often referred to as the ‘seven generations’.

The Great Law of the five nations of the Iroquois confederacy has three central ideas: peace; equity; and justice, referred to as ‘the power of the good minds’. It is a constitution and form of government that has endured for hundreds of years and still exists for the Iroquois people to this day. The reference to seven generations is part of this law.

The seven generations principle can mean different things and be interpreted in different ways. It is a concept that urges the current generation of humans to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. It may have originated with the Great Law of the Iroquois - which urges that consideration be given to decisions, based on the impact seven generations ahead. Essentially it is a recognition and honouring of those who have come before and a respect for the world which will be inherited by future generations. This can also be interpreted as seven generations back and forward, three generations back and three forward and this current one in the middle. Or seven generations back or seven generations forward.