Arapaho Cultural Lessons on Respect


Written by Merle Haas, in Consultation with elder

Amrose Brown and Alonzo Moss Sr. “The elderly” written by Abraham Spotted Elk

September 1994




The Arapaho Language and Culture Curriculum is culturally and linguistically relevant to stimulate the student’s tribal self-identity and tribal culture toward improving self-esteems. 

Traditional tribal values and customs are introduced covering basic knowledge and understanding as it applies to everyday situations. Respect toward oneself; to others-teachers, family, elders, and friends; to the earth; animals; and universe; are included with lessons on conduct of the Arapaho people. The Arapaho worldview is transmitted to students to gain a better understanding of how many things in their everyday environment-school, home, etc. are related and fit into the natural world, (people, animals, natural resources).

            It is important and essential for the Arapaho to maintain their language. Without the language, meanings are lost within all aspects of “life” of the Arapaho. The Arapaho language is the existence of the Arapaho nation. Historical perspectives are given through oral narratives handed down to elders about the past. Utilizing elders in the classroom to share their stories, songs, and wisdom will reinforce the cultural pride of the students.

Traditional Values and beliefs of the old people


Bravery, Generosity, and sharing, honesty, strength, freedom, love and wisdom were values that were taught to the youth as they progressed from one stage of life to the next.

All children were taught to respect one another. A long time ago, there were restrictions that young people were expected to follow. Brothers and sisters did not talk to one another beginning at about the age of 13 years, but when they became very old, they did.

Bravery: A long time ago, it was necessary to be courageous because the Arapaho had traditional enemies. Sometimes it was necessary to fight for hunting grounds and there were warrior societies that existed then. Strength was shown by trying to protect the tribe from enemies and danger. Today, we still try to protect our families from any kind of harm. Many present day warriors are still fighting for our land and sovereign rights for future generations to come.

Generosity and Sharing: The Arapaho have been known to be a giving people. Today, as in the past, Arapaho people will honor their loved ones by having a “give-away”. They may save up gifts and items for a year and plan a day to honor their relative.

Honesty and Freedom: Arapaho People were very honest in their dealings with one another in the past. It was necessary for the welfare of the tribe In getting along. The virtue of freedom was expressed by their whole livelihood; they hunted freely, they practiced their customs and beliefs, and they expressed themselves in their own language. People need to be honest in tribal society today, to get along. Freedom is still achievable by striving to protect our cultural ways and preserve our language. It is a right and a responsibility that Arapaho people have.


Arapaho Cultural Lesson


Respect Yourself 

It is important to respect one’s self and how you conduct yourself in front of your family and friends. We are given a life to live with however way we wish to live it. But there is a strength that we as a people possess that makes us different. We are Arapaho, and we have a language and culture. Our ways have been handed down by our ancestors to our parents and grandparents, and it is our responsibility to pass these ways down to future generation. As individuals of the Arapaho Nation, it is important that we try to learn and carry on, and pass on our language and cultural beliefs, so that our race will continue. We must respect ourselves-our minds, bodies, and our spirits, so that we can contribute a sense of health and strength for our families and the rest of the tribe.


Respect your family

Our extended family relationships are important, as well as our nuclear family-our mother and father, our brothers and sisters. Cousins are brothers and sisters too; aunts and uncles assume roles as parents and you call them mothers and fathers; grand-parents give spiritual guidance and love. 

There are certain rules and roles one follows toward respecting family members:

  • You don’t use abusive language toward parents.
  • You don’t tease cousins, your brothers and sisters.
  • You don’t walk in front of an old person when they are talking or smoking.
  • You listen to parents because the have experienced life in all its goodness and can tell you about it.
  • You love your brothers and sisters because if you do, they will always stand beside you in your lifetime.
  • You listen to grandparents. They can guide you and teach about the traditions and spirituality or your people. 

Respect Elders

The elders are the “Keepers of Tradition”. They know the language, the stories, songs, and values of Indian people. Arapaho elders provide a link to the past; how our ancestors lived and believed. Some of our old people know about past societies and clans that no longer exist today. Their stories are full of adventure and they can tell you about a time when animals could talk and the people could understand. Many of the ways of the Arapaho have been handed down from one generation to the next by means of our elders. They knew about the age grade societies where one achieved status and recognition as a leader or medicine person only by reaching a certain age and undergoing certain rituals. Our elders know about the spiritual ways of the Arapaho and work toward preserving the spiritual ways for future generations. It is important to respect our elders. We must try to learn from them to preserve our language and culture. Today, we have many stories, and songs, but many do not speak the Arapaho language. We need to hold on to what we still have. Someday, we may be elders and depended on for the stories, songs, and language.


Respect Creation

The earth is like our mother. She gives is shelter, warmth, and protection by providing trees from the mountains and hills, to build and heat our homes. She feeds the animals and fish so that we can use these same animals for food and clothing. She gives us water from the lakes, rivers and stream to grow our crops and to fish. The earth provides roots and herbs for teas and medicines. The earth is good.

Everything in nature is good to us. The sun also gives us warmth, but also feed the plants. Rain and snow nurture the earth and give back to the lakes, rivers, and streams. The wind blows away sickness and the moon governs the time of birth for future generations coming.

We must respect everything in Creation. We must not abuse her by destroying the trees, rivers and lakes. We should not take more than we need and we should use what we take. There area laws that govern nature, and we should obey them. By hurting the earth and animals, we hurt ourselves.


The elderly

We often forget, in our rush toward contemporary lifestyles, to pay attention to the most threatened of all- our elderly.

The elderly represent the last link with our traditional society. They are the people who hold in their hearts, the legends and the knowledge of our land, and who understand our relationship with the natural world. They are the guardians of our past, without which we cannot have a positive future. Yet, we forget to give our elderly the respect they deserve.

If we ignore this link, and if we lose our respect for the elderly, then we ignore our foundations. The elderly are the cornerstone of our current society and their contributions to the richness of Indian life cross all boundaries.

We remember, as children, watching our grandparents, touching their silvery hair and deeply wrinkled faces and feeling awed by their beauty. We wanted to be like them, for our hair to turn white with age. There are Arapaho prayers which ask for a long life. Traditionally, we aspired to reach the beautiful age of the elderly, to hold that wisdom that only age brings, and we want our children never to make fun of the elderly, but to be respectful and never be ashamed of them for their physical weakness.

The elderly are a valuable community resource. They should be commended for their contributions and courage. Their viewpoint can provide valuable input into government programs. Take the time to listen to them. Someday we are all going to be old. Each year as our population grows, there are more elderly people. TO many, our only lifeline of support is the government, either tribal, state, or federal. But as a people, we should not exclude our elderly, not underestimate their knowledge. We should reinforce and respect their right to live in dignity and to grown old gracefully.

More than just grandparents, the elderly are the strength and foundation of Indian cultures. They are our passport to a meaningful life and to the wisdom and beauty of old age.