Unlike Western culture, many Native groups hold their Elders in highest regard. The Elder is the most respected person in most Native cultures. Elders are both men and women who are distinguished by their wisdom.
Paulette Jiles states, "[Elders] are respected because they have lived through experiences, and, by training and culture, are supposed to have reflected on these experiences."
Elders use the magic of storytelling to share their stories. In times past, myths and legends were passed down to younger generations. Elders gave advice and told stories that educated youth about the laws and moral lessons associated with their culture. They were also important parts of the community, acting as grandparents or foster parents.
The essence of Native culture is preserved in the stories, teachings and language of the Elders.
In Native Cultures people both young and old look to Elders for insight, direction and wisdom. Native people learn from the Elders and the stories they tell, using the lessons to guide and shape their lives. In Western cultures, the opposite exists: youth is typically valued over age. As a result, many Elders are not able to share stories and lessons they learned, leaving them feeling unappreciated and not respected.
Today, Native Elders as valuable sources of culture, history and language. However, as younger generations loose their connections to the land and culture, they are also loosing the wisdom of countless Elders.