Elders and Elderhood

Who are Elders? What is Elderhood?

Elders are usually defined as someone of an older age. But, Elders are much more than just people of a certain age. Indigenous cultures have long recognized their elders as having an important place in their communities.

 

Indigenous Elders and traditional Knowledge Keepers are spiritual leaders. They are given their esteemed titles from their respective communities in recognition of life experience and wisdom. While all senior-aged people carry wisdom, an Elder is someone with a comprehensive understanding of Indigenous Ways of Knowing and the connection to the universe, including the land, animals, seasons and all life. Elders lead by example – living a quality life that embodies principles such as the Seven Sacred Teachings. Some Elders are also specialists in specific areas, such as ceremonies, healing, harvesting, medicines, counselling, negotiations and more. Elders and Knowledge Keepers have learned and earned the right to perform ceremonies through a long journey of ceremony and living a sacred life.

The role of Elder differs from community to community, as does the definition of what makes an Elder. It is also important to note that the terms Elders and Knowledge Keepers are not defined by age, but rather, the experience and wisdom derived from living and modeling a good life. They convey knowledge and teachings passed down to them in stories, songs, culture, and traditions, sharing life lessons and wisdom to the youth. Oral history is critical to Elders and Knowledge Keepers in sustaining cultures and traditions, and the collective well-being of Indigenous communities.

Hands-on experience is also an important tradition carried forward by Elders and Knowledge Keepers. Some healers and medicine people must go through very rigorous training before they earn the right to practice. For spiritual practices especially, having the appropriate teacher is important, and there is formal training for those conducting healing and sharing circles. ( source: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Canada website. )

 

Elderhood is the state, quality, or condition of being an elder. It is a time of life that is often characterized by wisdom, experience, and a sense of purpose. Elders can play an important role in their communities, providing guidance and support to younger generations. They can also be a source of inspiration and hope, showing us what is possible as we age.

Elderhood is a time of great potential and opportunity. It is a time to reflect on our lives, to share our wisdom with others, and to make a positive impact on the world. ( from Bard, the Google AI collaborative tool )

 

Read a 2019 interview with author and physician Louise Aronson about her book Elderhood – By reclaiming the narrative around older age, she hopes to not only support elders, but to impact family life, health, research, policy, and society as a whole. 

View her 2020 TedMed talk – Embracing Elderhood as a stage of life.

The National Library of Medicine published a lengthy study entitled Emerging Elderhood: Transitions from midlife.