In American Indian education, within each tribe elders, “are repositories of cultural and philosophical knowledge and are the transmitters of such information,” including, “basic beliefs and teachings, encouraging…faith in the Great Spirit, the Creator”. “The fact acknowledged in most Indian societies: Certain individuals, by virtue of qualifications and knowledge, are recognized by the Indian communities as the ultimately qualified reservoirs of aboriginal skills.” The role of elder is featured within and without classrooms, conferences, ceremonies, and homes.
A point of reference: those people who have earned the respect of their own community and who are looked upon as elders in their own society…We have misused the role of elder through our ignorance and failure to see that not all elders are spiritual leaders and not all old people are elders
Not all older or elderly people are considered elders. An elder is a person that has accumulated a great deal of wisdom and knowledge throughout his or her lifetime, especially in the tradition and customs of the group.
Elders emphasize listening and not asking WHY. There isn’t any word in the Cree language for “why.” A learner must sit quietly and patiently while the elder passes on his wisdom. Listening is considered to be very important. Questions were not encouraged. Asking questions was considered rude. Clarification of a certain point or comments was considered okay.
Learners were also encouraged to watch and listen to what was happening around them. Eventually with enough patience and enough time the answer would come to the learner. When this happened, the learning was truly his own. (Tipahaskan 1986:104-5)
The importance of context is indicated by the “specialization” of elders knowledge: “The elders’ skills are activated in contextual situations to meet specific needs.” As well as by the need for preparation in classroom settings: “‘People responsible for the hiring of older Indians as resource people make the mistake of merely putting them in a classroom with young children. The elders want to tell stories as they used to but children are either too impatient to listen, or perhaps do not understand.'”
The importance of context and preparation is also indicated by the following quote: “For example, recent work with the Menominee indicated that eye contact between an elder teacher and a child was necessary for informal teaching to proceed, and any disruption on the part of the child was challenged (Medicine, unpublished field notes 1987). Similarly, I have heard Lakota (Sioux) parents state, ‘Look me in the eyes!’ when addressing children and grandchildren.”
Politically elders may be accorded a weak position. At conferences elders may be treated as tokens and simply be brought out at the beginning and end to lead ceremonies. In classrooms elders may be unpaid or underpaid.
So now Frank is in a Dormitory. Everything seems to be in slow motion. The fog is thick and covering everything from the ceiling to the floor. He can hear what sounds to be laughter. Like a little girl’s laugh. It sounds so sweet and reminds him of the times he spent with his niece and a funny book on dogs.
He can barely make out the two front offices on the right side when first entering the dorm. There’s also a large tan double door way on the left that leads into the living room. Frank slowly and carefully makes his way into the living room. It has four big brown couches in a U formation, two beige love seats, an old dark wooden table, a vending machine, and a glass entertainment center with an old forty inch, perhaps original flat screen TV and Blu-ray player underneath. Some people are sitting on the couches and watching the old 90’s College sitcom “A Different World” on TV. It’s hard to make out who they are, but upon further inspection they look like four elder Native American women. Each was wearing a different colored dress with a Native American geometric pattern on it. The elder woman on one end couch wore brown. The woman to her right wore yellow. The next one red and the last one on the opposite end couch was in blue.
Wednesday morning came with another phone call. Frank looked at his caller id and it said Bureau on it. He answered, “Hello?”
An overly courteous effeminate voice said, “Gulliver Webster here, I’m calling to speak with Frank Nickels.”
The voice continued, “I’m with the BIA in this local area. Tomorrow at noon I’d like to have lunch with you to discuss the position you now have. Do you know where Harry Wang’s is? It’s within walking distance to the school.”
Frank’s cleanly shaved brown face humorously frowned because he thought he was hearing things, but he replied anyway, “No I can’t say that I do.”
“I’ll email you the directions. I look forward to meeting you. See you tomorrow,” Gulliver abruptly hung up leaving Frank holding his phone and almost responding with a parting word.