The Elders Are Watching- Summary by Aaron Singh

Posted by in Aboriginal Stories, Critical Resource Assessment, Elders

Bouchard, D., & Vickers, R. (1993). The Elders Are Watching. Tofino, BC: Eagle Dancer Enterprises LTD.

“The Elders are Watching” is a beautifully crafted book with amazing artistry and  very captivating messages about taking care of the land on which we reside. Unfortunately our group did not have enough time in our presentation to use this resource, however we found it to be very enlightening and thought provoking in regards to Indigenous knowledges and how they are passed down from generation to generation. This book is a collaboration between writer Dave Bouchard and artist Roy Henry Vickers. Upon arriving in British Colombia Dave Bouchard saw some of Roy’s work and was inspired by what he saw and really wanted to work with Roy on a book. This book can be found in libraries and online. It is a significant piece of work which stands the test of time and transfers knowledge in a simple yet elegant fashion.

The role of Indigenous knowledges are very ingrained in this resource on many levels. This story is a poem looking at how humans have been destroying and pillaging the Earth of its resources (deforestation, mining, over-hunting, over-fishing, the destruction of animal habitats, and capitalism). It describes how the Elders are watching this destruction with anger and despair, yet they have the hope that humans can adjust their ways to fix the wrongs done to the land. It is the elders hope that humans can see the beauty and necessity of nature. When humans realize this necessity they will protect and fight for the land on which they reside.
This book touches on many themes intertwined in Indigenous ways of knowing. The author and artist take a holistic perspective, that is spiritually driven that values the land and nature with the utmost respect. The authors also showcase the importance of elders in the transference of knowledge and how the impact of elders carries on well after their lives have ended. Another great aspect of this resource is the way it incorporates aspects of critical hope within it’s teachings. There is the hope that humans will see the negative impact of their actions on the land and that we will stand up and change our attitudes about the land. This book leaves the reader with a sense that we can create a significant change if we put our minds to it and value the teachings we have learned from our elders.

There are a great deal of benefits to using this resource in your practice. The message about protecting our Earth is one of critical importance in today’s consumerist society. We are all so focused on our wants that we have forgotten to nurture the very thing that gives us all life. This resource is very simple and the language is very clear. Students of all ages will be able to comprehend the messages contained in this book and be able to put the concepts they learn in this book into action. Another wonderful component of this book is the magnificent artistry in the pieces painted by Roy Vickers. His paintings on their own can have a big impact on the audience. The scenery he creates is beautiful and entices the viewer to really look deeper within the images. Another one of the many benefits of this resource is that it gives the ancient Elders a voice in today’s contemporary society. Even though elders come and go into this world their messages and stories can stay alive through the next generations. This book incorporates intergenerational ways of knowing in a very subtle but effective manner.

This book can be used for a number of different activities and lessons, which could be seen as a challenge in that it might be difficult to pick the activity you would like to use in relation to this book. You could create an art activity, a poetry activity, a social studies activity or even a science activity about conservation, the options are almost limitless. This challenge could also be viewed as another benefit in that this book allows teachers many different interpretations and avenues to teach very valuable lessons to their class. I as a teacher have used this resource on multiple occasions and have done very different lessons using this same book. To me this is the sign of an excellent resource, in that in can be used with a wide variety of age groups and can be used in many different ways. “The Elders Are Watching” is an outstanding resource that will continue to stand the test of time and give educators a tool that can enhance Indigenous knowledge within their classrooms and incorporate the ways of the elders into their teachings.

One of the other difficulties of this resource is that the ancestry of Dave and Roy are not discussed in the introduction of the book. Both have unique genealogies that are  ignored thus making them seem irrelevant, when in fact a persons place is very important in Aboriginal contexts. It is unclear how this collaboration between these two unique individuals actually transpired and leaves us questioning the true place they are coming from. Also the place which this book takes place is very generalized and lacks any clear focus. We can assume from the art that British Columbia is a focus of this book, but this is just a guess as the actual written work makes no reference to any specific place. This generality actually hinders the story in a way as the reader or teacher may have to go further in their class discussions to illicit connections to the land  in relation to their students heritage and place. There are some great themes presented here, but the authors could have been more thoughtful in regards to their place and ancestry and how this effects a persons reality.

There are a variety of lessons that can be used in relation to this resource. One of the lessons that I have had particular success with involves art as well as writing into the lesson. The lesson commences with the reading of The Elders are Watching on the carpet of the classroom. After the story has been read the teacher has a class discussion about the major themes in the book and what the students felt about what they had just been exposed to. Typically, these class discussions are very rich in nature, as this book elicits many strong feelings from students of all ages. This discussion is also a great opportunity for the teacher to talk about some of the other pressing environmental issues that are currently taking place locally (pipe lines) and internationally.

  • After the class discussion it is time to get your students to do some work. One activity that I have used is to get students to think about their favorite animal, plant or outdoor place. I often get students to pair share with another student to get some genuine ideas flowing. Once students have completed their pair shares they are then asked to go back to their seats and complete a drawing of the animal, plant or place they have decided to choose. After they have completed their drawing they are then asked to answer the following question on the bottom of their page or on another sheet of paper.
  • Why is this your favorite part of the Earth?
  • How can you prevent harm to the Earth through your actions?

When students complete their art work and answers to the questions it is now time to have a sharing circle so that each student can share their work with the rest of the class. I find sharing circles to be a very comfortable way to get all students to share their ideas in a community of learners. Upon the completion of the sharing circle the teacher can summarize some of the key points stated by students and close the activity. Another little extension of this activity is to laminate the students work and post it on a bulletin board around the school for other students to view. One last extension of this activity is to get your students to share their work at an assembly and have them present their answers to the questions in front of the entire school.

“The Elders Are Watching” is a resource that should be critically discussed with students. It can be used in multiple settings with a very wide range of learners. The messages contained in this book are timeless and can enhance Indigenous knowledge in a wide array of settings.

By Aaron Singh