Who are the Elders and why are they important?
An Elder is an identified and ‘respected’ male or female person of any age within the community who has the trust, knowledge and understanding of their culture and the permission to speak about it. Some Elders are referred to as Aunty or Uncle, but you should only refer to these titles when given permission to do so – simply asking is the best way to find out if you can do so or not.
They are often recognised as being able to provide advice, offer support and share wisdom in a confidential way with other members of the community, particularly younger members.
people who have lived in the area for a long time and are respected community participants.
people who are descendents of the area and are active in community issues.
The whole community holds these Elders in high regard. They play an important part in a child’s life through teaching, guidance and passing down traditional knowledge.
“Their guidance is often illustrated through everyday life and their teachings are often done subconsciously; we follow, we observe and we go on to teach our own families. It is through our Elders that the spirit as Aboriginal people is kept alive.”
Y. Walker, SNAICC Social Policy Worker, Family Matters, (1993) no.35, pp. 51-53
What can I do to support a connection with Elders?
Since Elders are so important in the child’s life, part of your role is helping children stay connected to them.
Find out who are the Elders in the community
Be openly interested in seeking ideas from Elders
Invite Elders to participate (or attend) some activities
Ask the child’s family how best to stay in contact with their Elders
NAICD Children’s Activity kit.
Questions for children to ask their Elders to help them discover where they come from.
What can I do if contact with Elders is difficult?
It can happen that sometimes it will be hard to find Elders available to actively participate in the child’s life during the placement.
Some circumstances might limit Elders’ ability to help, such as:
They may live far away from where the child is and therefore don’t have any transport
Aboriginal Elders are likely to be affected by problems of physical and mental health. A lack of culturally appropriate services around Australia often means locals face long travel times for medical care and appointments, so are very busy.
What to do in these cases
- Ask family members to identify some other significant person who can help the child by providing cultural knowledge.
- Organise an outing to visit the Elders from the child’s community, if they are available.
- Be patient with communication and keep trying!
- Contact any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander run community agencies. They may be in a position to help facilitate contacts with Elders.