In the Words of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition


458 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 0-8020-7953-9
DDC 971'.00497




Edited by Peter Kulchyski, Don McCaskill, and David Newhouse
Reviewed by John Steckley

John Steckley teaches in the Human Studies Program at Humber College in


In 1994, Dr. Emily Faries, a Cree scholar, interviewed 16 “Elders and
traditional teachers” from eight different culture areas across
Canada. The lightly edited interviews are presented here from east to
west and represent, according to the editors, a shift away from an
anthropological concern for material culture and past “cultural
purity” and toward a Native studies approach that reflects Native
thinking and contemporary concerns. The emphasis is not surprising,
given that all three editors are associated with the Native studies
department at Trent University, long a pioneer in the field.

In conducting the interviews, the editors chose a good representative
sample of contemporary Elders, all but three of whom were interviewed in
English. Many of the Elders are well traveled in Native circles and thus
have learned from people of other First Nations. Some of them talk about
how they coped with alcohol and the residential-school experience by
discovering their identity and the spiritual strength of their culture.
Some question whether they are really Elders; some question those who
might merely pose as Elders.

The book has some limitations. As the editors concede, the depth of the
interviews is restricted by the short period of time (several days) in
which they were conducted; Elders’ teachings are best revealed over
years of interaction. Further, for teachers, nonaboriginal students, and
many aboriginal students, the book presents formidable challenges. On
the other hand, challenging their audience is probably something the
editors intended.


“In the Words of Elders: Aboriginal Cultures in Transition,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 28, 2024,