Elder wisdom, Gender Roles and LGBT

Hearing Salina Everson, David Katzeek, and Linda Belarde this afternoon in many ways drew my mind back to my childhood, attending potlatch’s with my family, eating Tlingit food, and sitting patiently as an Elder spoke. As I grew older, I became more restless when listening to Elders. Perhaps I thought that they had nothing worthwhile to say to me. Of course, many years later I recognize the value of their wisdom.

What struck me most, however, about today’s presentation was the generational gap, however furtive it may have been, that was revealed by Peter’s question about gender roles in Tlingit culture. The answers I heard stood in stark contrast to contemporary views on gender roles and LGTB rights. Ms. Everson noted how women, traditionally, were not permitted to speak until either all the men had finished speaking, or they spoke only in response to a male questioner. While Tlingit society was matrilineal, that is, following your mother’s line, it was patriarchal in that men dominated. Matrilineal relates to how we are recognized, or our identity as clan members, not how much power the women have. Our clan identity is passed on via our mothers, but men held the power. Ms. Everson acknowledged that times are changing. Mr. Katzeek made an affirmation counter to current views of transgender identity. There is so much to learn from our Elders, they add value to every young person’s life, but while affirming the rights of all persons, there may potentially be areas of disconnect between traditional and contemporary world views.

9 thoughts on “Elder wisdom, Gender Roles and LGBT”

  1. Thanks for addressing the generational gap of the Elders with the current politically correct standpoint with transgender people. It was hard to hear after all the stress of being inclusive that a single group was singled out for being who they identify with.

    Also I appreciate you clarifying the role of gender in the Tlingit matriarchy where men actually hold the power within the system which makes it a patriarchy. I have a much better understanding of the complex and misleading structure of Tlingit society.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I found this statement by David to be weighty and hard to hear. Katie Kroko and I talked a lot over the weekend and today about how to rationalize an Elder in an educational role when so much of what he says is agreeable and enlightening, and then something as important to modern society as gender roles could be so obtuse and dated.

    I feel this raises questions – especially when you consider the other obviously stated norm of when the Elder speaks you listen. You remain seated and respectful until they are done.

    It stirs questions in my head of how does a society dependant on oral tradition and elder hierarchy move forward in a world of shifting values? Will the steadfast dichotomy mandate of only two genders alienate as much as it creates solidarity?

  3. This really pinged with me too–in fact it was so jarring with everything else he had said that my brain tried to tell me I was misinterpreting what he was said or had missed something crucial. Especially when so much of what he’d been saying was emphatically “Love each other! Accept and support each other!” and the kids he mentioned who so desperately needed someone to tell them they’re okay and found that in David (would he consider a trans kid to not be okay?). I’m wondering how much of his ‘men are men and women are women’ rhetoric was built on traditional values vs. something that might be a more contemporary/church-related point of view, or if these two groups agree on this particular issue.

    In any case, I’m glad we’re going to be talking about this in class, definitely looking forward to it.

  4. I’m experiencing a lot of relief reading these comments, because it justifies that some of the frustration I felt last week was not due to disrespect but due to complexity in who’s truth is “wisdom” and the politics of how this is shared.
    Here’s what frustrated me: A student posed a question about gender roles. Both women spoke about their experience with women’s issues, but then David spoke… about women’s issues… 3x as long as the women. He also commented and added his perspective extensively after each woman shared.
    I was even too nervous to write about this observation in my reflection because I feared it was disrespectful.

  5. This was jarring for me as well, but I think it’s important to understand that we don’t need to agree with everything Elders say in order to respect their wisdom and breadth of experience. There will always be generational and cultural disagreements, but an Elder’s perspective carries a unique weight. It’s our role as young people to listen respectfully and actively, without interrupting, and then to consider what was said and agree or disagree with what we will. But yeah, Kluonie, Devin, Andy, I’m with you all.

    1. What I’m wondering about, though, is how as teachers we can engage with students on a subject like this, where we may feel impelled to take a clear stand. I think that transphobia, like homophobia and racism, is a subject that a teacher should feel comfortable explicitly speaking against. If a student asks whether David is right or wrong, I don’t think it’s fair to trans students to say, “David has his opinion, and you’ll have to decide how you feel about it,” rather than simply, “David is wrong about this.” But to what extent can I say that, without being disrespectful? Can I say, “David is a respected Elder, and he has a lot of wisdom on many subjects, but on trans issues I’m afraid he is behind the times” without making it seem like I don’t really respect what Elders have to say?

  6. It definitely struck me when Mr. Katzeek said (paraphrasing here): “Men are men and women are women and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that.”

    Of course, that’s not considered a particularly progressive, enlightened comment by many people today but he comes from an older generation and that isn’t the first time, or the second time, or even the thirtieth time I’ve heard a version of that sentiment in my life. It’s a pretty common sentiment from older people of all backgrounds and for that reason it didn’t bother me a great deal. One day I’m sure most of us will someday express a viewpoint that has since been re-considered as regressive and if some younger person calls us on it, we will probably be wondering when the world changed. Personally I’m really not looking forward to my sentencing at the Environmental Crimes Tribunals in Brussels in 2040:)

  7. Reading the OP and the responses that follow have me thinking about a couple things aside from the ‘elephant in the room’ of generation gaps, evolving attitudes and appropriate behaviors. First and foremost Jerry, you had me fooled on the first day when we talking before class started. You have a wonderful voice, both figuratively and literally. I think you are on your way to being great orator and I’m happy to see this developing. Second thought, we spoke of culture as one’s own, “The filter through which we see the world”. So opinions, questions of morality, beliefs, what have you may/will/should differ, it is important to keep in mind that even though what’s ‘right’ for one person does not me it is ‘right’ for another person. Same question different solution, both are fine. To the student: There are some questions that have an accurate and unique answer and others that don’t. How does that make you feel? Let them know its important to really think about it and come to a conclusion that is right for them.

  8. This is the last of the comments I have to write on this particular post. Every time I think about this class I start welling up. It really pisses me off to think people can be such @%$*(&^!!!. I don’t know how you can compose yourselves… I remember eating dinner at my grandparents one evening. They frequently had guests over and during this particular night one of the guests used the n word. He stood up, looked his guests in the eye and said, “we don’t use that language here”. That moment and subsequent others have made their impact on me. Looking back that is big for someone from that time and place to do. David reminds me a LOT of him.

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