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Native American Stories About Respect for Elders

The mythology and traditional stories of most cultures at least pay lip service to the importance of young people respecting their elders, and Native American stories are no different. The classic story in which a child's parents are ill-treating his grandparents and then are shamed into changing their ways when the child tells them he will treat them the same way, for example, occurs separately in European, Asian, African, and Native American oral tradition, with different enough plotlines that it probably was not borrowed from one to the other.

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However, this theme isn't really belabored too much in Native American folklore. Though elderly people were occasionally abandoned during times of famine in northern Athabaskan tribes, for example, the experience of elders is generally an extremely valuable resource in societies where people rely on knowledge of their environment to survive. Couples who mistreated their children's grandparents or ignored their advice wouldn't have been merely unethical, they would also have been idiots and their family might not have survived. When traditional Native American stories show disrespect for elders, it is usually coming from a buffoon character such as a trickster animal-- the same sort of character who does things like set his own rear end on fire. Rather than telling stories disapproving of disrespectful behavior, Native American legends more often model respect for elders simply by featuring wise old people with good advice and heroes with the common sense to listen to them and treat them politely.

Native American Legends About Respect for Elders

*Raccoon Learns A Lesson:
    Mi'kmaq Indian story about the trickster animal Raccoon being punished for playing tricks on two elderly blind men.
*The Flying Canoe:
    Passamaquoddy story in which an old woman gives wondrous gifts to a man who was kind to her.
*Nukumi and Fire:
    Mi'kmaq Indian legend about the hero Kluskap adopting an old woman as his grandmother to learn from her wisdom.
Iyash and Old Lady Fox:
    Severn Ojibwe legend about a hero passing a strange test to earn the advice of a wise elder.
*Grandfather Thunder:
    Lenape legend about the importance of honoring our grandfathers.
*The Four Stages of Life:
    Nipmuc children's story about respect for one's elders.
*A Story About Respect * The Useless Grandfather:
    Versions of a widespread folktale about a boy who teaches his parents to treat their elders well.
*Cipayak, the Northern Lights:
    Cree legend about a disrespectful youth who ignored his grandfather's advice and offended the Northern Lights.
    Story from a Cree elder illustrating the traditional value of kindness to elders.
*Cleanliness and Respect:
    Cree oral history about the importance of respecting elders and the traditional ways.
*Respect for the Elders:
    Dene story passing on the wisdom of the elders.
*Blood Clot Boy * Kut-o'-yis:
    Blackfoot saga of the hero Blood Clot Boy, who avenges two elders mistreated by their son-in-law.

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends
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Nanabosho and Kitchie Odjig:
    Nice version of a Chippewa Indian legend about a trickster learning respect for his elders.
Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival:
    A fascinating novel by an Athabascan author, based on a traditional legend of two abandoned elders teaching their tribe to respect them.

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