Anishinaabe Elder Art Solomon: Pass it on! “It’s That Simple!”

Every generation needs people who will guide and mentor them. We Baby Boomer are well placed to take up this mantle and help and support the younger generations coming up behind us.

In an interview that he gave to Canadian researcher S. M. Stiegelbauer, the late Arthur Solomon, a spiritual elder of the Anishinaabe First Nation, once explained the role of the one who finds him or herself in the second half of life, which highlights the role of spiritual mentors. He said:

“You see, the elder, the concept for me is like if you go into a strange land and you don’t know the country and you’re swamped and there’s muskegs and there’s bad places to travel and there’s good places to travel. So, the ones who have been there longer are the good guides because they know how to get around the swamps, know where to go on. It doesn’t matter if there’s a trail. They know that country. You know the channel, on the north side of the channel? That was cut by glaciers, the second to last one, and they cut deep. The last one that came down, they cut this way almost directly across the other. What they have left is all these whale-backs or humpback, and if you’re travelling close to the borders of the channel on the far side, then you’re always going up and down and around. Always like that. But if you go maybe a half mile north, you’re walking on good land. That’s how simple it is. So, there are in fact guides who have been there who have each individually lived through their own hell and have found their way and they are in fact guides. So, if you are going into a strange land, and God knows it’s strange to so many young people, and [if you] can avoid all that and ensure [yourself] a good trip, that’s really what it is. It’s that simple.”[1]

Solomon understood how important it is to have good guides as we traverse this often strange and dangerous land we call life.  Today it is our task to pass on our knowledge, our stories, our faith and our traditions to those who follow. In many ways, we are like runners in a relay race, where the runner behind us runs by our side for a while, and then we pass on the baton of our traditions to them. We thus find ourselves in that part of the race where we are running side by side with those who are coming up behind us.

How are you serving as a guide or mentor to the young people in your life? I would love to hear from you!


[1] S. M. Stiegelbauer, What is an Elder? What do Elders Do? First Nation Elders as Teachers in Culture-Based Urban Organizations, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, pp. 41–42.

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