Vincent Schilling Cecelia Ransom
Courtesy of Vincent Schilling
ICTMN Correspondent Vincent Schilling sits with a member of his own Mohawk family Cecelia Ransom (Smitty) who walked on earlier this year in 2015.

10 Ways to Respect Your Elders

Vincent Schilling

Our blessed elders certainly deserve our respect. Though traditions and ways of life vary from tribe to tribe, showing respect to our elders is a way to remember tradition, pay homage to our ancestry, and to carry our beliefs forward to our upcoming generations of new leaders.

With this in mind, ICTMN has compiled a list of ways we can continue to show our elders that we respect them, honor them, care about them, and will take their advice forward to be the best we can be.

Here are 10 ways to respect our elders.

Listen More

The old adage “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason” applies here. When in the presence of an elder, make sure to listen more than you speak as an elder’s words come from a place with many decades of experience.

Be Polite

Acting in a polite way to an elder is a demonstration of respect. If you are in the presence of an elder, be polite. This means if they are talking, listen, if they ask you a question, respond respectfully and with a calm tone. Do not interrupt them, and always ask if they need anything. Do not address them by their first name unless they have given you permission. If you do not know their name, you may use sir or ma’am again unless they tell you different. If meeting an elder for the first time, do not sit with them unless you ask permission.

Two elder spectators at the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Annual Ironworkers competition in Akwesasne, New York sit back and enjoy the fun. (Vincent Schilling)

Ask for Advice

It’s a shame to think an elder, who has had a lifetime of experience, would ever be overlooked for their advice. If you are ever in need of advice about how to respond in a life situation, take some time out of your day to seek the counsel of an elder. Their advice may be better than what the doctor ordered.

Visit With Them

Sometimes our elders may spend time without the benefit of their communities because they may be at home, in an elder retirement facility or simply sitting alone during a powwow or other social occasion. It is a great show of respect to visit with them and bring the community to them.

Let Them Eat First

In many tribal communities it goes without saying that at any social event, the elders eat first. In any case you can show an elder respect by offering to get them a plate before you get anything for yourself. This is especially true If they are not able to stand for a period of time or could use any sort of assistance.

Ask About Traditions

It’s a great show of respect to ask the elders of the tribe to tell you about your traditions and culture. You can also learn from them in the process, which not only is respectful, but of benefit to learning the ways of your ancestors—a definite win-win.

If they speak your tribe’s traditional language—speak with them.

Carole Ross, Language Instructor of the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, says with a smile, “Learn Your Language!” (Vincent Schilling)

Whether you know the language of your tribe or not, offering to speak words, learn words and share the language is a nod of respect for the ways of your tribe. You will learn in the process no matter how well you speak, if you don’t speak the language it is a great way to start.

Ask About Their Lives

By asking an elder about their life, you can hear some of the most amazing stories. It also shows that you are interested in them, and that you care. Something as simple as asking an elder to tell you their stories shows a great deal of respect and reverence for an elder who deserves it.

Give Them a Call

Sometimes we are not close enough to see an elder in person, but this certainly does not mean we cannot reach out to them in a personal way. In our busy lives it’s easy to forget the amount of meaning an elder will experience if we take time out of our day to say hello.

Joe Calcagno sits at the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s Center for the Aging and looks with a smile at a cart filled with apple pies. (Vincent Schilling)

Tell Them You Respect and Appreciate Them

Though we may practice respect to our elders by listening, being polite or visiting, how often do we actually say, “I respect you greatly and appreciate that you are here.” This may seem simple, but it can be overlooked. If possible, the next time you see an elder that has been a positive force in your life, tell them this message of respect.

Follow Vincent Schilling on Twitter.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page



moonlion's picture
Submitted by moonlion on
As a largely European-American teacher on a reservation, I was very honored when, at a school event that included a potluck, my 8th graders insisted that my husband (also a teacher whom the students knew) and I be seated and allow them to fix plates for us and bring them to us, because we were elders. This respect from the students truly touched me, as did so many ways in which I was shown acceptance, kindness and respect by my students and by members of the community. I do have some Cherokee heritage, but much more Scottish, English and French, and have never claimed to be fact, it was a joke around school that white folks always discovered they were Indian as soon as they crossed the line into the reservation. Being perceived as "white" and still shown such respect as an elder was deeply moving.

Astrid Watanabe
Submitted by Astrid Watanabe on
Hawaiians also have this tradition. This became more obvious the older I became. What a blessing!

Norma C Romero
Norma C Romero
Submitted by Norma C Romero on
Patients is also another part of respect for our elders. I see lot of young ones, have no patience with them. They are old and it takes time for the elder to be able to do a simple task. Assist them, don't get impatient with them, they have earned that right. Elders are our first teachers, learn from them.