Column: Elders play important role in Indian culture

As an associate professor of social work at Michigan State University, Suzanne Cross helps her students learn to advocate for older generations.

Growing up in the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe, Cross learned to respect the elderly at an early age.

"The elderly are the knowledge and wisdom keepers," she said. "Often, they are the figures for the ceremonies. Events wouldn't start before they were there, and they would do the opening and the closing. They're an integral part of the culture."

Today, Cross finds herself as a mentor, both to younger women in her tribe and to her students at Michigan State University.

"It feels good," she said. "I'm able to share with the younger people."

One thing she hopes they all learn as they go along: Elders deserve the respect that Indian culture affords them.

"They all have something to share, and sometimes they're just not asked," she said. "If they say something without being asked, they're not heard."

Perhaps, she said, we should just listen a little more often."

Get the Story:
Kathleen Lavey: Indian culture teaches respect for tribal elders (The Lansing State Journal 12/10)

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