An Elder Speaks: “The Better Men They Were, the More Useful for Their Followers”

Audio, Aboriginal Futures, Frontier Centre

“Indian society was essentially democratic in that people that were governed were led with their consent. The method by which this was exercised was different than in the, in the general society today in that rather than having elections for leaders, leaders were developed by society as people who have ability. Who within families, results of their environment, background,  or whatever it is, and Big Bear became, was seen by his people as a man who had abilities.  These kind of people attracted the support of others.  The better men they were, the more useful for their followers they were, the more followers they had. People would come from other leaders, leave their leaders to follow this man because he was more able at providing them with the leadership that would result in good hunting, good war skills, and if this leader at some point faltered, showed weaknesses, then people didn’t demonstrate their displeasure by defeating him in an election; they did so by leaving.  And since the society was mobile, they were nomads on the Plains following the buffalo, then it made no difference; they had no permanent possessions in a particular spot, so that a leader who was not a good leader ended up without followers. A leader without followers is not, is nothing any more than a would-be follower. So he has to follower somebody else.”


– Jean Allard


Jean Allard is an honorary member of MAWG (Modernized Annuity Reference Group), a founding co-chair of the Treaty Annuity Working Group, and author of Big Bear’s Treaty: The road to freedom. A significant excerpt of the original manuscript was published in the policy journal Inroads in 2002. Jean had a fiery, short-lived political career representing the vast northern riding of Rupertsland in the government of NDP premier Ed Schreyer after being elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1969. He quit the NDP to sit as an Independent after clashing with the party over Indigenous policy. In 1994, Jean hit upon the idea of modernizing annuities while chained to the statue of Louis Riel to protest its removal from the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature. Jean has a long and deep history in Manitoba’s Métis community. He is a direct descendant of Jean Baptiste Lagimodière and Marie-Anne Gaboury (as is Louis Riel). He served 26 years as president of the Union Nationale Métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba, the oldest Métis organization in Canada.

Elders are very important members of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities.  The term Elder refers to someone who has attained a high degree of understanding of First Nation, Métis, or Inuit history, traditional teachings, ceremonies, and healing practices.  Elders have earned the right to pass this knowledge on to others and to give advice and guidance on personal issues, as well as on issues affecting their communities and nations.  First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples value their Elders and all older people and address them with the utmost respect.