In February of 1992, the Journal of American Indian Higher Education published “Young and Old Alike: Children and the elderly are a priority in Native American Cultures”. This title was as true then as it is today 31 years later. This article goes on to express the thought of “Elders as Leaders, Children as the Future” and explains the pressures of societal change.
Tribal and clan systems, just as the Tribes and clans themselves, have faced insistence on assimilation by people uninterested in understanding their dynamics. Boarding schools are a harsh reminder of one way Native family systems were attempted to be dismantled, but this pressure to drop traditions continues to this day.
Thankfully, programs like Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country provide support to ensure the protection and stimulate the resurrection of traditional Native American and Alaska Native societies. This spirit of respect and learning from Elders and teaching and uplifting Children shone through comments collected at the 2023 GHWIC Gathering.
Buzz Daney, Traditional Healing Clinic Manager at Southcentral Foundation, a Choctaw musician from Anchorage, Alaska, described the importance of relationship with Elders:
“Good Health Wellness in Indian country is all about what I try to do and serve our community, our native community up here in Anchorage. I was born and raised here before Alaska was a state and my dad and mom taught me community is the service that we adhere to. And so when I started working for South Central Foundation 34 years ago, it really was home. A place where I could put my skills to work and help and our people.Buzz Daney
From our native hospital where I work to they prison ministry where we share to our villages, GHWIC is everything. One wise elder taught me collaboration is everything. And that’s what I seek to do because it’s not the world of cowboys and Indians anymore. The Lone Ranger kind of thing. We have to do it together. And my elders taught us that we have to stay with people. We can’t lead too far ahead. We have to stay with them. That’s where we can do the most good and in balance, both wings of humanity, we can progress forward and do good things.”
Daytona Raye, Program Coordinator for the Albuquerque Area Indian Health Board, shared how proud she is to serve as an example to the Children of her community.
“I think that today was my proudest moment with GHWIC, as a keynote speaker. I did not know that there are little eyes looking at me. I did not know that they are people looking behind me that say, ‘You know what? I want to be like her. I want to be a voice for our GHWIC program, our Tribes.’ And for me to accept this invitation was great because it’s something that I’ve never done before and something that will always hold close to me because not only I represented our organization today, but more of my family, my family, my colleagues, the organization I work with, especially my grandparents that are not here. But I’m proud to say that they are the people who brought me here today. They are the people that say, you’re going to do this work and you’re going to speak for our people and you’re going to continue advocating for our children. And that was something that was really coming full circle because I did not know that. I had little eyes looking at me and say, ‘You know what? You’re going to do this for us.’ And here I am. And I am honored that the committee would allow me to speak today.”
Seeing the cultural value of Elders and Children expressed by these GHWIC members is nothing short of incredible. Knowing the efforts made to quash traditional practices yet seeing that they are still alive and well is nothing short of miraculous and directly impacted by GHWIC’s support.