Writer asks where are the elders in Sheguiandah?

To the Expositor:

Where are the elders in Sheguiandah?

The concept of an elder in the aboriginal community is sometimes a difficult one for non-aboriginal people to understand. The difference is in the language: in English, it is a title; a noun. In indigenous languages, it is a verb that describes the role. Putting the foolishness and ego driven problems of Sheguiandah’s dysfunctional council aside, I wonder where the elders are.

My understanding was that elders were sought after for their wisdom, philosophy on life, cultural knowledge, ceremonies, and gifts that have been nurtured over time. I was taught that an elder is not one who has reached neither a certain age, nor one who has piles of eagle feathers, bundles and pipes, or one that gloats about how many ceremonies or sweat lodges they have done. I thought they were peacekeepers, honest, balanced, strong and solid guides for their people.

Our elders seem lost lately. I see them demand respect by virtue of age or the size of their sweat lodges. I see them choosing to stand idle, sometimes taking sides rather than advising and doing what is best for their communities. Some wish to be put on pedestals, expecting to be revered and often out of reach of their people. Their actions make me question their intentions, their inner balance and even their faith. Perhaps they are more lost than we?

So where are they? Even in the height of the protest, we had elders not just from Sheguiandah, but from other communities standing by this side or the other. Am I wrong in thinking this is not what the ancient ones did? Historically, elders were the wise ones in a community, arbitrating and diffusing disputes, assisting with conflict and providing direction for the wellness of everyone. They remained impartial, neutral and focused on community wellness. They did what was best for the people and community with honesty to resolve problems and putting an end to hostilities. They helped guide and nurture the spiritual growth of all and in so doing, strived for their own constant inner growth.

I was taught that an elder is one who is disciplined and committed to a lifetime of learning; one who knows traditional teachings and is committed to helping people within this environment. An elder I thought was someone who was physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy. They were born with, or sought the gifts of healing in apprenticeship with a traditional healer. They are people who walk the talk, and live a healthy lifestyle within the focus of traditional values. Do we not have any here in Sheguiandah? Perhaps we do not, at least any that fit that description.

In older days, they provided help when asked and intervened when all reason and common sense failed. You would spot an elder in the way they treated his or her family, spouse, children, parents, elders and other traditional healers in a respectful and caring manner. All people were equal, good and one in their eyes. They were positive role models for aboriginal people; and able to teach and correct behavior with kindness and respect without humiliating the individual. They would spend a lifetime taming their egos and working towards that humility within.

I believe they are always hopeful of people and are able to see the goodness in everyone, and certainly do not use alcohol or drugs or engage in other destructive addictive behavior. They would help stop sickness before it spread, and not just physical sickness, rather emotional and inner sickness, and do what is always true given the teachings of their elders and those before them. They would share openly, teach unconditionally, and always kind towards all. They would truly live the teachings of the seven grandfathers and strive to remain true to themselves, their spirit and their creator.

So I ask again, where are the elders today? I myself am desperately seeking a real elder, one that is honest, true to themselves and their community, one that is humble, sincere, loving, brave, kind, just and respectful. Wow that is a lot to ask!

I pray for the veil of ego to be lifted from the eyes of those who think themselves as elders. I pray for their spirit to come through in an honest and just way, to live by their words and walk the talk, to be instruments of forgiveness, love and growth, to be peaceful and teach inner peace and to live right by their ancestors footsteps. If you come across such a creature or know of one, please let me know, I have much to learn and am in need of guidance and teaching.

Zareh Oshagan,
sacred keeper of the stone people
Sheguiandah