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Elders Voices
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Knowledge Keepers

Elder with GrandaughtersBefore we can listen to the voices and the stories of Aboriginal Elders, or try to learn about life through their perspective, we must first understand who they are, and the importance of the role they play in the community.

Elders, also referred to as Faith Keepers, Clan Mothers, Spiritual Leaders, and Grandmothers and Grandfathers, are members of the Aboriginal community who have gained humble authority by displaying wisdom in life. Not all seniors become Elders, and not all Elders are seniors, though the latter is very common as wisdom is gained through experience. Elders, as keepers of knowledge and tradition, have been recognized by their communities and by the Creator, because they hold many important lessons in their hearts that they willingly share with others to make their community a better place.

"Elders do not hoard their knowledge. Their most important task is to pass it on, so that the culture of their people can stay vital and responsive to changing times and conditions. The continuity of their nations depends on them."1 They are today’s connection to a rich and beautiful past; a living link to the customs and beliefs of the ancestors who lived at peace with the land and with each other. They help to renew and perpetuate traditions, which are rooted in a shared past and are crucial to the identity of the Aboriginal Peoples today. They do this by passing on their culture – traditional languages, concepts and beliefs, and sacred spiritual practices – to the younger generations. Often, this is done during ceremonies such as the Sweat Lodge, which the Elders help conduct. They also lead by example, living their beliefs to bring the world closer to harmony.

Another important role filled by Elders is that of counsellor. When a person in the community has lost their way and asks for advice, an Elder provides gentle words of encouragement or guidance. Sometimes, all they need to do is lend an ear, or show patience, to help a hurt person heal. For generations, Elders have supported their community this way, helping to carry their people through turbulent times. When their culture was being threatened, or when their people were suffering from the effects of negative influences, it was Elders who helped their communities hold on. They continue to do so today. Of course, the knowledge that the Elders are willing to share is not exclusive to their communities— they will help anyone who is in need of guidance.

"[Elders] are teachers, philosophers, linguists, historians, healers, judges, counsellors—all these things and more."2 They come from many communities, are of many ages, and have had unique experiences that have shaped their view of the world. Yet, they have one thing in common—the desire to help their people live the right way.

Canada. Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. People to People, Nation to Nation: Highlights from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The Commission, Ottawa, 1996.



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