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.
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.