Joining the Young People’s Circle

summer-streamYesterday I spent the morning with my good friend Alicia Daniels and her Ecopsychology class. Alicia is a marvelously gifted teacher, seamlessly weaving together her understanding of the Medicine Wheel teachings and her background as a field naturalist. Somehow, even as she acknowledges the suffering of Mother Earth, she also maintains an honest sense of optimism.

I was invited to class to speak about the role of the Elder and my understanding of the North. It was a bit of a trek down to the wheel the class had constructed in a glade in the field behind the campus. Sweetly, Alicia had brought along a folding chair for me, which one of the students happily carted to the wheel. After we prayed and conducted a brief ceremony we settled in for a chat, Alicia and the students sitting on the grass, and me perched on the chair. Although we had applied insect repellent, the mosquitoes feasted on us so we moved away from the shaded wheel into the bright sunlight.

The conversation turned to elders and questions: “What sort of elders do you know? Which are helpful or useful to you as young adults? What sort of elder do you wish to be in forty years? How might you shape your life in order to become the elder you wish to be?” I found myself in awe of these young people, mostly young women, who wanted to have a conversation about elderhood, a discussion that would have been almost unimaginable when I was their age.

As so often happens, the conversation eventually turned to identity and the Indigenous. One young woman began speaking about her Indigenous roots in Mexico and the terrible impacts of drug cartels on her home community. (Later I realized I had missed an opportunity to remind students that our collective hunger for drugs and diversion were fueling the destruction of Indigenous communities throughout “Latin” America.) The young woman worried she might lose track of her heritage, as she lives far away from that side of her family. When I suggested her blood knows, and her ancestors are close by, she became excited, and spoke to the importance she places on those relatives living and in the spirit world.

Eventually we packed up and trudged up the hill to campus.  We took a few minutes more and, sitting in their classroom, talked about their life journeys and hopes for the future. It was good to sit with them and to do ceremony. I am grateful for the opportunity to have joined their circle for a brief time.



6 thoughts on “Joining the Young People’s Circle

  1. They aresuch lovely questions to ask young people. That’s lovely mentorship. How do they want to shape their lives now with a view to who they want to be as Elders. I wish I’d been asked that as a young person, because I thought for sure that I was not going to live past 30.

    I have had a similar discussion with my two eldest boys recently. I asked them what kind of young men do they want to be. What kind of decisions should they be making now that will attest to the integrity and strength of their characters as young men in this world. I asked them to think about the words they use, the ideas they put forward, the messages they send out, and the way they hold themselves in public and with friends and strangers. It’s an important discussion to have these days with our young ones with the craziness of the internet and perils of social media.

    Thank you for this lovely post.

    1. Tree girl, thank you. I love that you have incorporated Narrative questions into your life at home. It is a running joke at our house that I will, when awake, sneak in Narrative ideas and questions. The other day, as I sat with the students, they made the point that there are elders and Elders. That opened the door for the marvelous conversation about what sort of elder they wished to become.

      I, too, could not imagine living past 30. Now I am 66. Sometimes my future remains foreshortened. Trauma has a way of doing that. Interestingly, the one student with a KNOW Indigenous heritage was the one who was already practicing becoming an elder in her community. She had models and a community that, although increasingly in diaspora, taught her to be a human being.

    1. Greenmackenzie, You are right, a blessing indeed! It is good to sit in a circle of young people and speak about spirit, stopry, and heritage. It is good to make room for the suffering of our peoples, and for the sacred.

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