An Elder For The Tribe
Traditionally our old ones were the story tellers. Things were passed this way from generation to generation. For this reason the elders made it a point to remember every details so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spiritual values alive and important. In the last century we spoof their stories and in so doing make them feel foolish. The truth is that many of our young’s are ignorant of what is valuable and precious and how to appreciate age. Age is grace - a time far too valuable to waste. We can get over being poor, but it takes much longer to get over being ignorant.
Elders are recognized in several ways, by age, by knowledge, by spiritual commitments to their tribe, by the people. The Elders hold a special place in Native Society. Our Elders are the carriers of our memory and life experiences. The youth have the energy while the Elders exercise their wisdom. It is everyone's responsibility to grow into a respected Elder; one who is sought out for advice and council. At Native Gatherings, the Elders eat first while the young wait their turn. Elders can often be seen in the center of a group of young ones sharing their knowledge. Our American society today is so youth driven that it has forgotten that Elders also have a contribution to every day life.
What is an Elder? The following definitions are useful in establishing this important concept:
"A label given to men or women who, are recognized by others, possesses knowledge of
Aboriginal stories, values, and the history of communities and nations." (Draft proposal, the Ontario Curriculum, Grades 11 and 12, Natives Studies, January 1999, p69)
“It is important to note that the title “Elder” does not necessarily indicate age. In
Aboriginal societies, one is designated an Elder after acquiring significant wisdom and
experience.” ( Meadow Lake Tribal Council website)
“Elders are repositories of cultural and philosophical knowledge and are the transmittersof such information.” (Medicine 1987:142)
“Elders are those people who have earned the respect of their own community and who
are looked upon as elders in their own society.” (Mark, cited in Medicine 1987:146)
Elders are people who:
- have significant wisdom in areas of traditional aboriginal knowledge.
- are recognized as having that wisdom by their community, their Nation.
- have the capacity to transmit this knowledge to others.
Within Native culture, the Elder occupies a revered position: he or she is a person gifted with great wisdom, an individual who advises, resolves disputes, and acts as a model of acceptable behaviour within the Native community. Although Elders are very much an element of reservation life, they are developing a role within the culture of urban Natives.