When you are meeting with Elders, Indigenous leaders, or anyone from Indigenous communities, there are general protocols, but be aware different groups have different protocols. It is always helpful to research protocols specific to the group you are meeting with ahead of time.
Meetings with Indigenous communities are very similar to ones held every day, but there are some cultural differences that can show respect and strengthen relationships.
When possible, go to the location of the group or Nation with whom you are meeting. It shows you want to work with the Indigenous Nations.
Respectful meeting etiquette includes:
- Greet your guests with a soft handshake.
- Go in a clockwise direction around the room to allow participants to introduce themselves and where they are from.
- Let your guests know exactly why they are at your meeting, and the information you would like to learn from them.
- Do not rush the speakers, and build in extra time for discussion and storytelling.
- Understand that a clear decision may not be made at one meeting, but could take several meetings.
- Provide drinks, snacks, or a meal for attendees.
- It is respectful to ask an Elder to open and close the meeting with a prayer.
Another sign of respect is to have similar groups meet. Political leaders are engaged when our politicians are engaged. Administration typically meets with administration or Elders.
Working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Elders
When do you need to work with Elders? In First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures, Elders and traditional teachers play a prominent, vital and respected role. Elders and traditional teachers are held in high regard as they are the knowledge keepers. They are leaders, teachers, role models, and mentors in their respective communities who sometimes provide the same functions as advisors, professors and doctors. While Elders may be invited to provide opening prayers or addresses, take a few moments to think about why you are inviting these respected individuals into your work.
Decide on the intended purpose of the Elder’s role. Elders are willing to help but are often spread thin and overwhelmed with requests. Many Elders will not refuse a request at first but if they are constantly asked to participate in a superficial manner, they may start to refuse or, will simply not call back. Some Elders refer to this as “Harvesting Elders Knowledge” and feel that in these instances, the requests are being done for the “wrong reasons”. The key words to consider when reflecting on whether or not you require an Elder’s presence should be:
- Respected role
A few questions to consider are:
- Are you looking for philosophical or historical direction?
- Are you planning to actively use the information to set a direction, or improve a program or practice?
- Are you asking the right question? Elders should not be asked to read materials or comment on operational documents.
- Does your structure work in such a way that Elders have prominent places at the table? Don’t have an Elder do the prayer and then have no additional voice.
- Are you prepared to report back after a period of time to gain further direction or validation?
- Do you require specific assistance such as healing? This is especially important if you are requesting a certain ceremony? Make sure you understand the roles and purpose of ceremony before making that request.
- Are you prepared to host the Elders you are inviting? This includes parking, travel and/or picking up an Elder, food, gifting and the offering of tobacco.
- Are you clear on the type of information you require, and have you determined which Elders have that type of knowledge? Like professional people, Elders have unique bodies of knowledge. For example, lawyers know about law but not about medicine. The same premise holds for Elders, and it is both disrespectful and embarrassing to ask Elders for information that they may not have.
If you can say yes to all these questions, then you are in a good place to bring Elders into your space. Elders can provide profound guidance and direction and should be brought into projects with the highest regard. Please take the time to think about how and if your projects require their guidance.
Indigenous Elders teach us the importance of acknowledging the land that we gather on and the peoples who traditionally lived here. This acknowledgement shows respect for the First Peoples and urban Indigenous Calgarians who lived here before colonization. It pays homage to Indigenous ways of knowing and demonstrates a commitment to personal learning.
The City of Calgary recommends commencing all events, large and small, with a territorial acknowledgement. It is best if the person giving the land acknowledgement understands the significance of the words in it and the land being recognized.
Here is an example land acknowledgement to start from:
We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region in Southern Alberta. The Nations of the Treaty 7 region are: the Siksika (Seeg-see-gah), Piikani (Pee-gah-nee), and Kainai (G-ai-nah) First Nations, who, altogether, form the Siksikaitsitapi (Seeg-see-gate-see-ta-pee) (Blackfoot Confederacy). The Chiniki (Chin-ick-ee), Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations, who, altogether form the Iethka Nakoda Wicistabi (Yith-ka Na-ko-da We-chi-staw-bee) Stoney Nakoda First Nations; and the Tsuut’ina (Soot-tenna) First Nation. Calgary is also homeland to the historic Northwest Métis and to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. We acknowledge all Indigenous urban Calgarians who have made Calgary their home.