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Invitation Protocol

A resource compiled by Dr. Nicole Bell:

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.

Whenever traditional feasts are held in First Nation, Métis, and Inuit communities, the Elders and older people are often asked to offer prayers to bless the events or to do the opening or closing ceremonies.  They are also served first and they never have to wait in line or are left standing if chairs are unavailable. 

If you are considering visiting a First Nation, Métis, or Inuit community or organizing an event with an Indigenous focus, you should consult an Elder for his or her perspective.  A certain protocol should be followed when requesting an Elder’s assistance.  This protocol may vary from the following guidelines, which would be used for a First Nations Elder.  If the Elder is Inuit or Métis, tobacco may not be offered when requesting assistance.  Check first with a leader of the Elder’s community to determine the proper protocol.

Inviting an Elder for a Classroom Visit or for Advice

If you want an Elder to come to your classroom to talk to students, there are certain things you should consider.  When you approach an Elder, begin by offering tobacco to the Elder and asking permission to speak with him or her.  Tobacco is an indigenous plant from North America and it is also one of four sacred medicines used by First Nation people in Ontario.  It is used in sacred pipe ceremonies and it is offered to the sacred fire at other ceremonies.  Tobacco has traditionally been given to Elders whenever a person is requesting their assistance.  If the tobacco is accepted, the Elder is available to listen to your request for advice.  Thank the Elder for the advice when you are finished.  A gift for the knowledge received is always appreciated.

Inviting an Elder to Perform Opening and Closing Prayers for an Event

Explain the event to the Elder.  Offer tobacco and invite the Elder to participate.  Acceptance of the tobacco means acceptance of the invitation.  Find out if the Elder needs a ride to the event.

When an opening prayer is done, there must also be a closing prayer.  The opening prayer gives thanks to the Creator and serves to bless the event.  The Elder may ask a helper to smudge the people gathered.  Smudging is when a medicine such as sage is lit so that it is smouldering.  This smudge is then taken around the circle and a feather is usually used to spread the smoke around all those gathered.  Smudging is done to cleanse everyone gathered so that the event runs smoothly and everyone is in a good frame of mind.

Inviting an Elder to Participate in a Meeting or Committee

Elders are considered to be integral to the preservation, maintenance, and revival of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures.  It is important to note that “Elder” does not necessarily indicate age.  In First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultures, an Elder is designated as such having been deemed to have acquired significant knowledge about essential teachings in their culture and to have gained the wisdom drawn from experience that enables them to share their insight with others.  The participation of Elders in the classroom/school program honours the cultural traditions of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples by brining authentic perspectives, as well as enhancing the self-esteem of First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students.

Talk to the Elder in detail about the responsibilities and level of involvement.  Explain why the Elder is being invited.  Offer tobacco and request the Elder’s participation.  If the Elder accepts the tobacco, the Elder agrees to participate.  Find out if the Elder needs a ride to the venue of the meeting.

It is important to remember that we must respect all Elders, even if we may not agree with their viewpoints on some things.  Elders should also receive honoraria to cover their travel expenses and time.  This can be done discreetly when the Elder arrives by giving a card with the honorarium inside.  Anything else can be provided to the Elder at your discretion.



What is an Elder? What do Elders do?

By: S.M. Stielgelbauer, The Canadian Journal of Native Studies, Vol. 16 N. 1, 1996.



Working with Indigenous Elders

By: Jonathan H. Ellerby

Addresses questions such as:
· Who is an Elder?
· How is an Elder trained?
· What does an Elder do?
· What is the appropriate protcol when working with an Elder?

Also addresses administrative issues involving Elders, such as: the hiring process, payment, teamwork, confidentiality and time commitments.



Aboriginal Tobacco Program

From the ATP website: "This website is hosted by the Aboriginal Tobacco Program of Cancer Care Ontario. It has been created with input from Aboriginal youth and guidance from community Elders. It's part of a movement to create tobacco wise media messages with and for Aboriginal youth. Someone who is tobacco wise knows the difference between traditional and commercial tobacco and is empowered to make the necessary changes to protect their well being and that of their friends and community."

Tobacco is an important medicine in most First Nations traditions. This site gives information about the traditional use of tobacco, with much of the information coming from Elders. The site’s primary purpose is to discourage tobacco abuse within First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities. 


Ask An Elder - Jason Jones

Series of videos exploring Ojibwe teachings with an Elder.

Indigenous Students Health Sciences Office at McMaster University YouTube Channel

A YouTube channel featuring several videos of McMaster University’s Elders in Residence and Aboriginal students in the Health Sciences program.  These videos feature in-depth cultural teachings and their connection to studies in Health Sciences.  Beyond this, the channel also posts videos of Aboriginal students and graduates of McMaster University as they reflect on their experiences in the program.

Legends: Hunting with Father (With Cree Subtitles)

June 18, 2012. 16:15 minutes. 

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