Indigenous Leadership Program Preserves Elder Knowledge Through Intergenerational Relationships

Gail Small, Cheyenne Tribe Leader of Northern Montana, accepts one of the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Awards 2012. Small is part of a team of Cheyenne leaders who helped form Native Action. In 1995, she was appointed Mrs.’s Woman of the Year. (Vimeo)

The Spirit Aligned Leadership Program (SALP) – the only non-profit program run by senior Indigenous women – aims to pair senior Indigenous women with younger mentees to impart knowledge for the continuous improvement of their tribes and wider communities. These philosophies, ranging from medicine to environmentalism to activism, are often not put forward in Western society, making this oral passage crucial to preserving the Indigenous way of life.

“We are thrilled and honored to create a way for some of the most dedicated cultural leaders to share their knowledge with one another,” said Katsi Cook, Executive Director of SALP and Citizen of the Mohawk Nation in Akwesasne. “These women hold within them some of the most creative solutions to the world’s most complex problems.

The program takes its name from the typical arrangement of corn stalks, which are planted next to each other; then, inside each ear of corn, the kernels “line up” to form perfect rows and columns. SALP draws a parallel between Indigenous women, who also aim to be perfectly aligned with one another.

Currently, SALP has three “circles” of women integrated into its program. Each of these circles is made up of a group of legacy leaders, who must be over the age of 65 and belong to a federally recognized tribe, nation or established Aboriginal community. Each of these Legacy Leaders is then matched with a Future Legacy Leader aged 18-40 who is committed to preserving the knowledge of the Elders. Within this one-year fellowship, the two work together to safeguard wisdom through community programming and documentation.

Together, intergenerational pairs work on cultural projects in their communities, including knowledge transfer; healing and well-being; climate change; solutions to contemporary challenges; roles and leadership of indigenous women; recovery of the homeland; renewal of language and ceremonies; indigenous food sovereignty; and Knowledge of the Celestial World – an Indigenous practice of star mapping that informs traditional birthing knowledge and ceremonies, as well as agricultural and environmental practices.

Gail Little, SALP Program Director and member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, says the nature of the Legacy Leader and Future Legacy Leader couple best maintains Indigenous culture. “Intergenerational knowledge is best transferred intentionally. … Knowledge is learned by doing it in the practice of everyday life, ”said Small. M / s.

Small says SALP’s work is more important than ever as the pandemic, exacerbated by the lack of federal support for Indigenous peoples, has resulted in the deaths of many elders, resulting in the loss of their prospects.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to share my knowledge with my youngest relative, Jessie Taken Alive-Rencountre from Standing Rock,” said SALP participant Norma Rendon. “Both of Jessie’s parents died from COVID-19, and I have worked closely with them. I am fulfilling my responsibilities of teaching Jessie, and she will teach her daughters and other young women. This intergenerational leadership scholarship is exactly what we need.

This intentional act of storytelling dismantles Western individualistic ideologies by highlighting how indigenous peoples “have always lived within intersectionality,” Small said. M / s.

“The way the western world tries to position itself [elements of life] at an individual level rather than approaching the family or contemporary reality … ignores the history of colonization.

As American narratives attempt to erase or lessen the extent of the violence that Western society has inflicted on Indigenous peoples, programs like SALP exist to commemorate this pain so that the United States can begin to address and repair. centuries of damage. “Why is this story not told from our perspective? Little asked. “We were fighting for a way of life.

When asked what non-Indigenous people can do to support SALP’s work and the broader preservation of Indigenous life, Small spoke of the importance of empathy and unlearning: “It’s yours. burden of going to educate and raise your children differently. “

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Kevin E. Boling

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