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Elders Voices
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Traditional Education

For traditional Aboriginal Peoples, an intimate knowledge of the land and its behaviours was crucial to survival. Education was not limited to what could be learned in books, but was based around the elements found in nature. From an early age, children learned skills necessary for life in an often-harsh environment. Elders served as teachers, sharing with the younger generations the lessons that they had learned from their Elders.

Child As knowledge-keepers, Elders were central to the community and instilled in the youth many important life lessons. For the most part, the education they handed down to the younger generations was ingrained in everyday tasks. People learned the behaviours of the land because their survival depended on it. For example, to be a successful hunter or trapper, it was necessary to understand animal migration patterns. In the same way, young girls watched their mothers and grandmothers tan hides and in time learned to do it themselves, because leather was needed for clothing and shelter.

One of the most important means of imparting education to the younger generations was storytelling. Elders told traditional stories about creation, animals and spirits. These anecdotes usually had morals that taught important lessons about life. Elders also led their communities spiritually by handing down sacred beliefs and practices. As healers, they were familiar with the healing properties of herbs and other plants and shared this knowledge with their peoples to help communities stay vibrant and strong.

The importance of traditional Aboriginal education became especially evident with the arrival of European culture. The pressures brought on by outside influences at times threatened to destroy unique Aboriginal cultures completely. Yet, through thick and thin, Elders held on to their traditional knowledge, sharing with their children the lessons taught to them years ago, and instilling above all an appreciation and recognition of the interconnectedness between all aspects of life.


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