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Who is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elder? A Complete Resource Kit

October 3, 2017






Everyone has a certain idea of what an Elder is in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. However, there are still a few who are confused or who are too embarrassed to ask who is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elder and what role do they play in their community and the broader community.


Some think that to be an Elder, you have to be an older person as they have more experience and that they are knowledgeable in life.


This is not the case.


Through many years of working in Communities, in this blog I will attempt to answer some of the usual questions surrounding Elders and the importance of their role in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that I am asked.


Let’s start with the most typical question asked. What makes an Elder?


Most often, an Elder’s definition in the community varies on the culture they live by and what they want to pass on to the next generation. However, the common trait of an Aboriginal Elder is a profound spirituality that touches every aspect of their lives and teachings.


They do their best to live by example – by actively following deep-seated principles, values and teachings.


With the term Elder, one would think that a certain age is required to achieve this status. This is Definitely not the case. Elders are not defined by their age. They are described as someone who has achieved the respect of their people through knowledge, accord and stability of their actions in their traditions and customs. It is also important to remember that there is no specific gender required to become an elder. In Aboriginal cultures, women are also referred to as Elders



So let’s dive deeper and answer the main question. What role does an Elder have in the Indigenous community?


While the specific role of an Elder may change from one community to the other, they are identified by the common principles they uphold and instill to their community members.


Some of these principles are respect for their environment and that the earth is their mother. Elders are also devoted to imparting their knowledge, provide leadership, teach others to respect their natural world and to learn and to listen to the rhythms of the elements and seasons.


In modern day, an Elder’s role in the community has helped tackle a range of community concerns such as health, education, unemployment, racism and oppression. By supporting Elders, they can provide an optimistic move in bridging the cultural gap within the community and transfer revered spiritual understanding. Spending time with elders and community can help people deal with their day to day lives, feel a positive connection to their history, country and the Dreamtime.


Elder engagement by Government and Communities should be paramount to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Elders have importance within their communities and can lobby their community to empower themselves in areas such as unemployment, improved health, and providing a safe, cultural space for teachings.


Elders should be considered vital, not just to their Indigenous community, but to all of us that call Australia home.  They help mold minds in respecting the surroundings, teach people to love our country as their mother and help continue the traditions that the first Australians have lived by for thousands of years. Elders help pass on the knowledge, tradition and spiritual culture that they follow, to their fellow Indigenous community and the broader Australian public, as well as help educate non-Indigenous people on how to deal with certain aspects that affect the daily living of Indigenous People and share our beautiful cu