Our blessed elders certainly deserve our respect. Though traditions and ways of life vary from tribe to tribe, showing respect to our elders is a way to remember tradition, pay homage to our ancestry, and to carry our beliefs forward to our upcoming generations of new leaders.

Listen More: The old adage “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason” applies here. When in the presence of an elder, make sure to listen more than you speak as an elder’s words come from a place with many decades of experience.

Be Polite: Acting in a polite way to an elder is a demonstration of respect. If you are in the presence of an elder, be polite. This means if they are talking, listen, if they ask you a question, respond respectfully and with a calm tone. Do not interrupt them, and always ask if they need anything. Do not address them by their first name unless they have given you permission. If you do not know their name, you may use sir or ma’am again unless they tell you different. If meeting an elder for the first time, do not sit with them unless you ask permission.

Ask for Advice: It’s a shame to think an elder, who has had a lifetime of experience, would ever be overlooked for their advice. If you are ever in need of advice about how to respond in a life situation, take some time out of your day to seek the counsel of an elder. Their advice may be better than what the doctor ordered.

Visit With Them: Sometimes our elders may spend time without the benefit of their communities because they may be at home, in an elder retirement facility or simply sitting alone during a powwow or other social occasion. It is a great show of respect to visit with them and bring the community to them.

Let Them Eat First: In many tribal communities it goes without saying that at any social event, the elders eat first. In any case you can show an elder respect by offering to get them a plate before you get anything for yourself. This is especially true If they are not able to stand for a period of time or could use any sort of assistance.

Ask About Traditions: It’s a great show of respect to ask the elders of the tribe to tell you about your traditions and culture. You can also learn from them in the process, which not only is respectful, but of benefit to learning the ways of your ancestors—a definite win-win.

If they speak your tribe’s traditional language—speak with them.: Whether you know the language of your tribe or not, offering to speak words, learn words and share the language is a nod of respect for the ways of your tribe. You will learn in the process no matter how well you speak, if you don’t speak the language it is a great way to start.

Ask About Their Lives: By asking an elder about their life, you can hear some of the most amazing stories. It also shows that you are interested in them, and that you care. Something as simple as asking an elder to tell you their stories shows a great deal of respect and reverence for an elder who deserves it.

Give Them a Call: Sometimes we are not close enough to see an elder in person, but this certainly does not mean we cannot reach out to them in a personal way. In our busy lives it’s easy to forget the amount of meaning an elder will experience if we take time out of our day to say hello.

Tell Them You Respect and Appreciate Them Though we may practice respect to our elders by listening, being polite or visiting, how often do we actually say, “I respect you greatly and appreciate that you are here.” This may seem simple, but it can be overlooked. If possible, the next time you see an elder that has been a positive force in your life, tell them this message of respect.

Responses to " Native Teachings: 10 Ways to Respect Your Elders "

  1. Unknown says:

    Lovely. Thank you for the reminders.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Even if you are related, be ready to explain who your family is including parents, grandparents etc. and be sure to leave your phone or IPAD home in addition to the term "like." Talk slower than you usually do and loud enough so the elder can hear you. Don't tag a woman who may not be related to you "toopah" or an elder man "chief." Keep your hands to yourself elders don't like everyone touching them on the shoulder necessarily. If your gregariousness is the result of drugging or drinking stay away from elders. They don't appreciate you spitting in their faces. Never ever decline a gift from an elder, that could get you removed from the will. If the gift is a cultural piece learn as soon as possible it's significance. Learn a short phrase or question in the language spoken, "Stam aw squest?" or Haw nam Qwsoost t'coppie? I was amused when I encountered a young person once and he said every time he went by, "Taws stam ats mees-tan!" He smiled broadly and I smiled in amusement. Tla-put say! RC

  3. I'm caring for an eighty-five year old 'elder' - this taught me a mighty lot!

  4. Reb says:

    Thank you. Wonderful teaching.

  5. Anonymous says:

    ty for the reminder and lesson in courtesy. much appreciated.

  6. Unknown says:

    BEFORE asking something from them and After a story they share Always offer tobacco, ice water, a snack. check if comfortable or if you can do anything for them. Never stand above them ALWAYS remain at eye level... Neck cricks make it hard to crane head upwards or eye issues. It's just the respectful thing to think of them 1st.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for this!
    Showing respect is showing love and gratitude for the sacrifices that the elders have done to nurture, protect and teach the younger generations.
    I have a chess blog:
    and found this post while looking for an image "learning form the elders".
    May I use one or two images from this post of yours in my blog?

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