An Elders Teachings on Being a Student

An Elders Teachings on Being a Student

By: Christina Coolidge | Indigenous Program Researcher
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Saahiilthit (Gerry) Oleman, an elder of the Stl’atl’imx Nation shares his teachings with Aboriginal students about education. His words are powerful and I felt humbled as I listened to him, as I know I fall short; however, as a student of SFU and of life, I am always willing to learn and to grow. Here is a an excerpt from his 15-minute talk, which can be found at an amazing site called ‘Finding Your Gifts’, dedicated to encouraging and assisting Aboriginal students in British Columbia. I hope you find it as helpful and uplifting as I have.

Words from Saahiilthit (Gerry) Oleman:

In our way of life that's what we were taught: that the teachers are there and they're going to lay the teachings at our feet and it's up to us to pick them up. So you're going to be coming into a world, a new world, or a new way of life than what you're used to when you come to post secondary education. And it can be a wonderful time and there's going to be also a challenging time for many of the ones coming through. I'd like to lay some teachings at your feet about what you need to care of to be a successful student.

The areas I'd like to talk about is first of your mind, your body, and your spirit - the three areas that we need to take care of as human beings. All healing work or education has to do with the mind, the body and the spirit. So for our mind to be opened to the teachings we must become the student. The word student means 'the consistent observer' - that's what the word student means. So when you come here, your job is to watch and to listen when instructor or the teacher is in the room. That's your job as a student.

Also to be the consistent observer you must take care of your body as well. I tell people now the teachings that I was taught was when the teacher was in the room to sit like an eagle, don't be slouching. Sit up straight and observe the teacher, be the observer and you're going to learn. With our spirit, that's trapped inside of our skin, that holds our body together we also must nourish that as we must nourish our mind and our body.

Part of my wish is to inspire you to find that place in you that when we push that you're going to go. You're going to keep going and your spirit is going to be strong. You're going to have this incredible will to live and to succeed and to be a kind person, a compassionate person. When you do this as a student your chances of success go up. You start to know for yourself personally that these are the areas you must pay attention to.

With your mind you cannot have distractions when you're coming here. Our people over the centuries, thousands of years, when they wanted to learn they would isolate themselves from their families, they would go out to find the teachings. It would be a sacrifice because the whole intent of education is to find your way, to find your gift and to master those gifts and start to live them on a daily basis. Then your life is going to feel full. If you do not find your gift, you're going to suffer. It's the same for every human on the planet, the ones that don't find their gift are suffering. So I really would like to you to start to meditate on this whole idea.

There are many facts out there about the problems we have as Aboriginals – that we have a high drop out rate, that we have high addiction rate, suicide, family dysfunction - in every area we look at we are overrepresented. But I come here today to say those facts, for you, are not important. What's important is your attitude, how you're thinking, because you're going to act the way you think. So I want you to think positively as a student because when you think positively and start saying 'I am a student, I am a good student' you're going to start to act that way. Because the minute or the second you say 'I cannot do this', you're putting the brakes on on your own movement, your own path in this education, the places you're going to to find your gift and to develop it and to become the master of whatever it is.

Christina Coolidge is currently attending SFU as a Communications Major. She is the Indigenous Program Researcher with the Career Services department. Christina is a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation and her matrilineal ancestry includes Cree and Scottish. She hopes to help build a bridge between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous communities in order to better understand one another and to live together in a spirit of unity.

Posted on June 04, 2013