When I say “elders”, I'm not talking about people who are simply old. I am talking about those who have traditional knowledge and who have that wisdom of saying.... I hear stories from, say, an elder that go, “When I was a child, this is what we used to pick to help a stomach ache.”
One of the reasons that, in the Haudenosaunee people, women are title holders to the land is that, when a man marries a woman, he goes to stay in her community and it's her land. The Indian Act undid that. The Indian Act imposed a patrilineal culture upon indigenous peoples.
It's women who give birth, and so does the earth. She provides food. She provides many things to us. The symbolism that is embedded in indigenous people is there from indigenous knowledge-keepers. A person we term an “elder” could be someone who's 30 years old or 20 years old. They could be a child. It's just that sometimes people are old souls. For us, this is our philosophy. You might think it's weird, but this is how we think. An elder is someone who understands exactly what I was talking about. This is how you respect the land. This is our relationship with the land, and we need to nurture that relationship. It's not just thank you and goodbye. It's also what you are giving back to the land. What are you giving back when you go hunting? It's customary that you provide tobacco to the deer or moose that you kill to send that spirit on its way.
There are so many things involved with being an elder, and it's not just about doing an opening prayer and then making the elder sit in the back and listen to everybody. It's about involving the elders in decision-making processes.