Elders are the spiritual and moral leaders of Aboriginal people and play a tremendous role in the community. Elders are those who teach younger generations and who pass on stories and knowledge. Elders are individuals who have a deep connect with their heritage and live their lives by example of traditional principles, morals and teachings. They can be both men and women and have similar roles and are shown the same respect. An Elder’s central role is to instil Aboriginal teachings in the community as well as to facilitate smudging, sweats, prayers and counseling although Elder roles may vary from tribe to tribe.
There is some etiquette that you must follow when you speak to an Elder or make a request:
- Address them as Elder _______ (their name) to show respect and to acknowledge their role.
- Use appropriate eye contact but do use too much.
When asking an Elder to perform a smudging, prayer, sweat or teaching, offer them tobacco. It should be given in a pouch or wrapped in cloth and depending on the tribe’s customs, can be in the form of a cigarette. Be specific in stating your question or making a request of the Elder and lay tobacco in front of them. Speak to the tobacco when making your request. If they pick up the offering then they have accepted your request. Do not give the tobacco directly because that forces the Elder to accept with no choice and is disrespectful.
Elders play an important role in Aboriginal communities and are highly respected. They are a valuable asset and are the foundation of the communities. If a chance represents itself to meet with an Elder, it will be treasured experience!