Wisdom Whisperers: Native elders share stories, advice and knowledge | FirstNationsFocus.com

Wisdom Whisperers: Native elders share stories, advice and knowledge

Bethany Sam
First Nation’s Focus
Northern Nevada Native American elders are pictured recently at the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. Front row, from left: Marlyn Melendez, Vincent Stewart, Janice Stump, Linda Jones and James Thomas. Back Row, from left: Gene Evans, Edith Eben, Juanita Sampson, Brenda Stewart, Kevin Andrews, Angela Reid, Mary Lou Shorthorn and Steve Sewell.
Photo: Bethany Sam


Beginning this month, First Nation’s Focus is now publishing a regular section called “Wisdom Whisperers,” wherein all elders are encouraged to share stories, traditional and cultural knowledge, advice, and more. If you’re an elder and would like to share your wisdom, contact First Nation’s Focus Business Development Manager Bethany Sam (Hunkpapa Dakota Sioux, Kuiza-tika-ah Lee Vining Paiute, Washoe) at 775-297-1003 or email bethany@firstnationsfocus.com.

RENO, Nev. — One of the greatest lessons a child can learn is to honor his or her Elders.

Our Elders have paid attention, gained knowledge and wisdom from life. During their childhood, they carefully watched and listened to ceremonies and traditions, and paid attention to the way their elders in their communities behaved. Our Elders are libraries of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, history and tradition. Learning and receiving advice from our Wisdom Keepers, Elders, is a priceless gift.

Our Native American/American Indian Elders and Ancestors persevered & prevailed through the toughest, roughest times in our history, so we, the younger generations, can live the way we do today.

Go back in time, 100 years or less or more. Imagine not being able to powwow and wear your regalia. Imagine secretively praying to Creator and speaking your traditional language in fear that you might be killed or imprisoned for doing so.

Imagine being forcibly removed from your family/community to attend Indian Boarding Schools to learn a new language, religion, and way of life. Imagine drinking from a segregated water fountain that was specified for “Indians Only.”

Imagine not being able to eat at a restaurant. Imagine running from the Calvary for your life, starving, having no rights until 1924, etc.

Our elders and ancestors endured, fought and survived for our future. They deserve to be respected and honored.

Read words of Wisdom from local Native American elders below.


Edith Eben (Mitchell)

Tribal Affiliation: Yerington Paiute

From: Yerington, Nevada

Age: 80+ years

Parents: Dowdy Mitchell & Rosie Williams

What have you been taught about respecting/listening to your elders? “I didn’t know anything but to respect your elders. My parents instilled that in me from the time I was born. Nowadays, it’s rare parents teach the youth about respecting elders.”

Do you have any stories or advice you’d like to share with our youth? “It’s your home life that teaches you about respect and the old ways, especially language. All tribes have different dialects depending on where you’re from, like Northern and Southern Paiutes. But it still comes down, again, to where your family is specifically from. Learn your Tribe’s language wherever you come from.”

What can the youth do better? “It starts with your home life. Monkey see, monkey do. Teach your children the old ways and ask your elders questions if you don’t know where to start. Work hard, show respect, give love and be yourself. Learn your language and traditions.”


Arthur Shaw

Tribal Affiliation: Reno-Sparks Indian Colony & Great Basin Nations

From: Bishop, California

Age: Between 50 & 100 years

Parents: N/A

What have you been taught about respecting/listening to your elders? “When Elders speak you look them in the eyes and listen. If you do not, you will miss a name of a relative or a special place where your family(s) meet and gather; like a pinenut picking spot, powwow, ceremony place, etc…”

Do you have any stories or advice you’d like to share with our youth? “Our stories of the past are not written down. As a youth myself, my ears were dead to my elders and they stopped talking to me. I lost a lot of family news and stories about my family’s history. So open your ears to elders. In my day, everyday was an event of survival. Protect our females in the tribe. Our females are our nation’s future.”

What can the youth do better? “Stay strong, be proud. When we speak, you listen. We do not put our stories in black and white. We have tried only to have other people change our words. We are not a boring Nation. We excite other Nations and people around the World.”


James Jergon Thomas

Tribal Affiliation: Reno-Sparks Indian Colony

From: Born in Schurz hospital 7/2/47. Grew up in Mina, Nevada, until age 3, then moved to Reno

Age: 71

Parents: Eddie Thomas (Berlin, Nevada) & Helen Thomas (Mina, Nevada)

Grandparents: Charles Bell (Bishop, California) & Mamie Robinson (Shurz, Nevada)

What have you been taught about respecting/listening to your elders? “Treat with respect and be good to them. Help them and listen to their stories so you will know about Indians and the old ways and where they or you came from.”

Do you have any stories or advice you’d like to share with our youth? “Stay in school and especially learn American History and if there’s a class available in American Indian History take that class too. You will be very proud of being an American in this country and proud of being an American Indian in this great country that was build by the people who come on the boats from Europe. My ancestors seen the First Europeans that traveled to what is now Nevada. I’m very proud of this fact, as told by my grandparents.”

What can the youth do better? “Respect elders, help them, take care of them. Stay in school, make something good out of your life to make your elders proud of you. Don’t drink or do drugs. They will destroy your life and make you very unhappy because no one will want to be around you when you act in ways that are not respecting yourself. Nothing makes us elders more proud of our people when we see the young folks doing good things in their life. And that makes us elders strong and proud knowing we may have had some influence.”


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