Native American elders are revered individuals who provide wisdom and leadership for their Tribes by exuding grace, wisdom, and gentleness in their daily words and actions. A Native American is usually considered an Elder when they are above the age of sixty to sixty five, although it varies from Tribe to Tribe. In rare instances, a Native American is also considered an Elder if he or she is often sought out as a source of spiritual and traditional wisdom, regardless of age.
Elders are the heartbeat of their Tribes. Their age and wisdom allow them to perceive clearly from a cultural perspective and understand deep truths about God and nature. It is of utmost importance that Elders be treated with respect and reverence. Oftentimes in Native communities one will see the younger generation getting Elders their food at community gatherings, or acquiring comfortable seats for them. Another way in which we honor our Elders is by waiting for them to dance at Powwows before we begin dancing. Also, many Tribes initiate Elders’ programs to show how much their Elders are cared for.
When an Elder speaks, an informed individual knows to listen. An Elder’s wisdom is invaluable to a tribe’s prosperity and well-being. Elders are sacred bearers of golden truths and know many valuable stories about the Old Ways. God often speaks through Elders.
A Prayer By a Native American Elder
Honor the sacred.
Honor the Earth, our Mother.
Honor the Elders.
Honor all with whom we
share the Earth:
plant and rock people.
Walk in balance and beauty.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at a book reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.