Elders serve as role models for graduates
- NC Raine | July 24, 2017
In Indigenous culture, Elders fulfill an important role of linking the past to the present and the future. Often thought of as the heart of Indigenous history and heritage, Elders are the gatekeepers of wisdom, traditions, and knowledge, and are an essential to any healthy community.
Graduates (of any sort), ready to take on the next big chapter of their lives, stand to learn a great deal from their Elders. As such Eagle Feather News spoke with both an Elder and a recent graduate to hear their individual perspectives on education, culture, and hopes for the future.
“I think the younger generations definitely should pursue education,” said Abel Charles, Elder at Grandmother's Bay First Nation. “But we can't forget our spirituality, which is an important part of any human being. We've forgotten the aspect of spirituality.”
Charles, who has been a resident of Grandmother's Bay since his late teens, grew up mostly along the trap lines, learning first hand the importance of heritage and traditions. His community has evolved from log cabins with outhouses, to buildings and homes with plumbing, he says. But the constant, says Charles, should be a connection to one's past.
“Younger generations are less connected to their cultures,” he says. “I think families have become disconnected. We're not eating together, or sitting in the living room together. We're too busy with technology.”
Charles believes, from a young age, children should be imparted the traditions of their culture. And it's up the parents, he says.
“I don't think you can teach that in the classroom. It must come from the land. The language comes from the land, and it has to start very early.”
It's certain that at least some young people are listening. Preston Lachance, 21, is a recent graduate from Osakaya High School in Saskatoon, where he served as his class' valedictorian. For Lachance, the significance Elders' play hasn't been lost on him and his peers.
“Elders are where our knowledge comes from. They're our role models, and who we go to for guidance,” he says.
“They've played a big role in my life in terms of mindset. How I take things into consideration, how I react to things, or how I look after those around me.”
Lachance, who plans to attend the University of Saskatchewan in the fall to study Physical Therapy, says his heritage will remain an important component in his education.
“Heritage is absolutely important for my future,” he says. “I believe that traditional knowledge is something (we) have to continue to pursue and attain.”
When asked what advice they have for young people on the importance of education, both Elder (Charles) and Graduate (Lachance) expressed a very similar sentiment, although in very contrasting manners.
“Go and seek education and employment outside your community. Young people should take risks, and they should challenge themselves. Even if you fall flat on your face, taking risks will make you stronger,” said Charles.
“Don't get caught up in the bullsh*t,” says Lachance. “Focus on your dreams. One thing you can't get back is time. And one thing that stays the same is change. So keep changing for the better.”