Creating Opportunities for Elders

Our Learning Resource

Our elders are our knowledge-keepers. We look to them for wisdom, guidance, and validation. Guidance when we face the huge challenges that life puts in front of us. Validation when we must do what we believe is right – especially when others cannot understand or cannot see what we see.

We depend on them for wisdom, the perspective that only they can have that distills all the knowledge and experience they have gained from living. We depend on them to pass that wisdom on from generation to generation.

Being an elder is not about age. You don’t become an elder because you’ve grown old.

To me, an elder is someone whose integrity I trust and whose wisdom I respect. That trust and respect must be earned to be real.

Our culture is based on respect. We value respect that is earned. The trust you acquire, the standing you have in your community, is earned by living with integrity – by sharing your wisdom with words and demonstrating it with your actions.

Talk is good. Actions are stronger.

We need what our elders bring forward.

Kilsli Kaji Sting
Miles G. Richardson
Former President of the Haida Nation
Former Chief Commissioner of the British Columbia Treaty Commission
Board of Directors, The David Suzuki Foundation
Officer of the Order of Canada
From a keynote speech given at the David Suzuki Foundation Elders Forum 2009 in Vancouver, Canada

Miles Richardson

Raw courage and conviction are dominant personal characteristics of British Columbia Chief Treaty Commissioner, Miles Richardson. Born in Haida Gwaii in 1955, Mr. Richardson attended the University of Victoria and earned a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Economics in 1979. He became politically active at university and returned to his home community after graduation. In 1984, Mr. Richardson was elected President of the Haida Nation and served for 12 years. When loggers threatened to destroy the old-growth forest on Gwaii Hanaas, also known as South Moresby Island, Mr. Richardson and the Haida people marshaled environmentalists to protect their land. Against the odds and with personal risk, he led the Haida and the environmentalists in successfully convincing the federal government to designate Gwaii Hanaas as Canada’s first national park reserve and a Haida heritage site and to name the Haida people co-managers of the park. In 1996, Mr. Richardson was appointed British Columbia Treaty Commissioner. He continues to serve as a bridge between Aboriginal people and governments to assist in bringing the land question in British Columbia to resolution.


As elders, – we who have the experience, the knowledge, and a greater understanding of how things are and how things could be, – created by our experiences that we bring forward from our past, – and we who can see into our future from our point of view, – we are at a turning point in our lives at the time when we are at a turning point in our human journey and in the way we see and do things.

We are at a turning point in our world and in our human journey because nature has moved us into exploring our opportunities for recovery and restoration. Our turning point lies in what we choose to do and how we choose to do things.

We have opportunities to contribute and opportunities to create for others to contribute. We can turn our wisdom, – what we know, what we can see, what we can create, – and our ability and understanding of how to live, and how to succeed, and what to pursue, – into creative contribution and into creating opportunities for creative contribution for others, – and demonstrate creative leadership and creative community enterprise.


We must be learning to feel fully alive. We must unlearn to learn new things, – to continue to grow and evolve and realize the full possibilities of our lives. To keep the mind alive requires learning something new with intense focus.

Creative pursuits and intense learning activities contribute to reduce aging. Older people who develop new skills are less prone to depression and illness. We have use it or lose it brains. To keep the brain fit, we need to learn something new, to have new interests, new relationships, – and new enterprise.

Our brain explores new pathways as we explore new ways of seeing and doing things that contribute to our creative pursuits, – and to new understandings, abilities, and arts. The learning and creative process is increasing the number of connections in our brains with the pursuit of new ideas, new enterprise, and new contribution

We have the freedom to be able to choose whatever interests we want to pursue. Choose what we have always wanted to do because we will be more highly energized.

The mind draws conclusions. The mind explores responses. The mind evaluates responses depending on the consciousness and interests of the mind, – and the feelings, the experience, the enterprise, the point of view, and the learned behaviour of the person in care of the mind.

Behaviour change is the only way we demonstrate a change in our interests, ideas, and point of view and the only way we can demonstrate our contribution to the interests, ideas, point of view and possibilities for others.

Creating possibilities for children and youth is our greatest contribution to our lives and our futures, to our experience of life, and to the quality of the experience of life for others.

We learn how to live from our children as they learn how to live from us. Creating opportunities for youth is a creative enterprise which contributes to our own creative experience, abilities, and enterprise.

We are all elders, – we are all contributors to someone or could be contributors to someone, – we are all responsible for our behaviour and our contributions.

We create new ways of seeing and doing things when we are involved in creative community enterprise.


As we get older are we no longer needed?
Do we no longer need to pull our weight?
Do we have nothing to contribute?
Do we care to contribute?
Do we care to improve how we feel?
Do we care to improve the quality of our experience of life?
Do we know how to do this?
Do we know how to get started?
Do we want to collaborate on creating opportunities for ourselves?
Do we want to collaborate around creating opportunities for others?
Are we at a point of arrival as an older, – or a point of departure, – or both?
Are we interested in our creative evolution and our possibilities for creative contribution?
Are we interested in creating community around our common interests and our opportunities to contribute as elders?

Creative contribution

We have experience and know-how. We are free. We have opportunities to continue our creative evolution. We have opportunities to increase our creative contribution. We have opportunities to create opportunities that contribute to improving our possibilities for the future.

Our creative resource

The wisdom of our elders

Community contributors

Suzuki Elders


University of British Columbia Elder Scholar Program


The Aging of America
Baby boomers began turning 65 in January, heralding a seismic shift in demographics worldwide. In the United States, by the year 2035, 1 in 5 people are expected to be age 65 or older. America’s aging population has profound implications for society, as well as for policy makers and businesses.
New York Times Business Day, February 5, 2011

The Brain