Honouring your elders

Neavah Thorne and grandmother Sally Gray. - Andrew Leong
Neavah Thorne and grandmother Sally Gray.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Cowichan Tribes member and Duncan city councillor Joe Thorne doesn’t consider himself an elder.

“My mother is 90 years old in April. She’s the elder.”

Thorne explained how in the First Nations community, the eldest family member is the elder, a position respected above all else.

“We hang on to elders as long as possible; they are each family’s priority. All of our kids know when Grandma comes in the house, she’s the boss. If she says to do something, you do it. If she’s got a story to tell, you sit and listen. We always go to my mother first.”

Thorne said elders carry knowledge, and it is their responsibility to share it with the generations after them.

“We have to remember what was and what is now. We try to keep that alive as much as possible. The elder’s job is to keep everything focused.”

Thorne explained an elder helps guide their children and grandchildren into the roles they are destined for. He shared a story about how his father groomed his brother to be a mechanic and encouraged Thorne to read books.

“My brother ended up as a cross-country mechanic and I’m a politician. Towards the end of his life my father said, ‘I saw it in you as children by your actions. When you eat your food, you are eating my words and I’m telling you this is what I’ve seen.’ We didn’t even know it was happening.”

This isn’t about being in a position of authority. Thorne said leadership is about making sure family traditions are carried on, which his mother does for him, and he does for his children and grandchildren.

“My mother leads the way to make sure things are done right. She carries on our traditions and we share her teachings. That’s a gift.”

Thorne thinks every family should spend as much time with their elders as possible. He said too often people regret not having made the effort to listen to their parents and grandparents.

“People are so busy trying to become like their parents they forget who brought them in this world.”

He said it’s only after an elder passes away that a person realizes the impact of their messages. Sharing an elder’s stories with the next generation ensures their stories will live long after they have gone.

“I always want to make sure my mother’s life is going to go beyond her lifetime. She will become part of my history with my kids. The good things she’s taught us will live on.”

Thorne encourages people to get to know the elders in their community.

“Look into their eyes, at their wrinkles, look at all the stuff this person went through just so you could be here with them. Just listen. It makes them feel like they are remembered, cared for and loved. Look at their faces. Theer is history there. Happiness, suffering, struggles, trials tribulations. It’s all there.”

Thorne passes on a lesson his mother taught him that has impacted his life the most.

“First, you must learn how to listen; second, you can listen to learn. That’s going to keep our people united.”


More interaction, please

Carol Hunt at the Cowichan Seniors Community Foundation said there are few opportunities for seniors to interact with younger community members, and it needs to change.

“It’s terribly lacking here. The whole domain of senior support in Cowichan is compromised. There is a huge hole here that remains a concern to us that have a constituency with senior programs. It’s curious because we have one of the highest seniors per capita in the province.”

Hunt said the foundation is aware there is a need to connect these two demographics. They are working with representatives from other seniors’ groups to address the problem, including the challenge of finding funding to pay for a new program.

Hunt’s goal is to build a senior centre in Cowichan where these kinds of activities can take place.

“There are a lot of wonderful elderly people here who are our greatest resource.”

Visit the CSCF website for more information about their programs.

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