Monday, December 5, 2016

Certification for Indigenous Elders

The term Elder is used all over the world. It is a term of description, but Elder is also used as a term for a position. In the Indigenous community the Elder (capital E) is a designate for a person who is held in high esteem.  Generally elder is used to describe a person who is old, elderly and experienced in life. For Indigenous folk it represents a person of knowledge, particularly Indigenous knowledge linked to Spirituality and is a person recognized among their community. Recognition is important. Elder is not invoking a  title to be bestowed on yourself.

There is no governing body where Indigenous Elders are given the title. The talk of a "certification" for Elders is a discussion which takes place whenever an individual "Elder" does something wrong.

The thing is, how do you regulate honour? The thing about Elders is that you are going on honour. You honour their status and they honour their role. So how do you regulate trust and honour? The role of an Elder is not a quantifiable position. Like measuring their age, their experience, their knowledge, their commitment, their integrity?

Its a difficult situation to start to regulate; determining who is an Elder and what they should have in terms of credentials. What is the base line for measurement? Age? Education? Up bringing history?

Some say there needs to be a base line for determining an Elder and qualifications?  There is the argument where there needs some type of verification of whether or not they are in fact qualified to be an Elder. Perhaps a governing body to oversee who can be called an Elder?

Me I think there is a body already. It is informal and it is comprised of Elders and community folk. The community knows and recognizes who is an Elder. Elders generally recognize other Elders. The role of Elder can be complex and simple at the same time. Some Elders will be recognized for their knowledge of Spiritual Teachings while some will be recognized as Healers. Some Elders are recognized as lower Elders in standing to other Elders. These "lower" standing Elders will willingly yield to a more "higher" standing Elder. This is not a written rule or vocalized but it is practice common among Traditional Elders. The 'higher" Elder may not be older than the "lower" standing Elder.

The certification of Elders is not a viable action. Elders being Elders is a privilege and time honoured tradition and role among the Traditional Indigenous community. It is something recognized by the community. The standing of an Elder is not universal in our communities. An Elder that is highly visible and very active may not have the recognition of the Indigenous community but is well known outside the community circle; such as government agencies, academic institutions. Or it may be the individuals choice not to accept a certain individual as having Elder status. There are some Elders who everyone knows and recognizes as an Elder of honour.  Still there are people  who give themselves the title Elder and keep selling it. They use the title so many times and in so many public places the label sticks. The label of Elder sticks with outside of the community. So we see many an Elder who is old yes, but has not earned the Right to be an Elder in the Traditional sense; of a Teacher, mentor and Keeper of knowledge. We see some Elders who have been actively engaged in not only Christian lifestyle but even are naysayers to Traditional Teachings. There are a number of "well known" Elders in Winnipeg city that have not had the background of Teachings but now are touted as Elders.

For Traditional Elders to be regulated and tested or thought through an educational institution would be wrong and just plain stupid.  There are examples in the Western world where time honoured traditions and practices have been made into certificate courses and training. Acupuncture is a Chinese ancient medicine practice of 4,500 years. It is now a course and certificate. Take a 300 hour course and you are now certified to do Acupuncture. You can push in the needles without having the understanding or Teachings behind the practice. Western culture has embraced Acupuncture but not the Teachings it is based on. The "scientific community" will look for things they understand and discount the Teachings as "a pre-scientific superstition": Acupuncture is based upon the Eastern philosophy of chi (also spelled qi), which is the Chinese term for the supposed life force or vital energy that animates living things. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) chi flows through pathways in the body known as meridians. Illness results from the flow of chi through the meridians being blocked, or by the two types of chi (yin and yang) being out of balance. Acupuncture is the practice of placing thin needles at acupuncture points, which are said to coincide with points at which meridians cross, to improve the flow and restore the balance of chi.There is no more reason to believe in the reality of chi than there is in the four humors, or in the effectiveness of acupuncture than the effectiveness of bloodletting. 

The arrogance of main stream culture and values is active in discounting the Traditions and history of anything and anyone not modern. This is the route they have taken with ancient Chinese Traditions and Teachings.  

Elder Don Cardinal 
You already see non-Indigenous people giving Teachings on the Pipe, the Sweat Lodge, the Sundance and many other Ceremonies. With an Elder Certification process you can see it would not be a leap to include non-Indigenous as certified Elders. The process is not so far off. We have many consultants and professional positions where Indigenous knowledge - Traditional knowledge is part of their bag of tools/experience/education, whether or not the individual has been part of the Traditional Indigenous world and community recognition. In some of the cases the non-Indigenous expert reports to know more than the local Elder or Indigenous persons. 

Sagkeeng Elder John Kent
I hope the roles of Elders remains in the Traditions of the community and their people. 
Sure change is a great thing but some things should remain as part of the foundation of who they are. Elders recognizing Elders and community recognizing Elders. 

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