Elder Protocol

If you’re going to invite an Elder to conduct a land acknowledgement it is extremely important that they are treated with respect and their needs are seen to before, during, and after the ceremony. (Definition and roles of an Elder can also be found on page 27, in the Saskatchewan Resource: Ayisiyiniwak: A Communications Guide1)

Here are some guidelines and suggestions with respect to elder protocols.

When contacting the band office here are the questions to ask:

  • Name of Elder and correct spelling of name.
  • How they should be addressed.
  • Contact information.

It is customary to provide an honorarium to the elder:

  • Never ask the elder.
  • The honoraria should be ascertained beforehand – keep in mind that you are asking to impose a monetary value on a sacred ceremony. The honoraria should respect the value of what the elder is offering.

Travel Arrangements:

  • Be prepared to cover travelling costs (do you need to send a car or taxi to pick them up?)
  • Will they be travelling on their own or with someone?
  • Name of their travelling companion and whether or not that person requires payment and expect to cover their travel costs as well.

Food & Beverages:

  • Find out in advance if the elder has allergies, dietary requirements if they are invited to stay for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • In some cultures it is customary for the elder to be served their food, and maybe even first; it is definitely a must if the elder has mobility challenges and can’t carry a plate of food while using a walking stick.
  • Some elders will not participate in events where alcohol is being served; be sure to include this information when extending the invitation.

When contacting an elder, remember that a phone call is better than a letter. Elders often rely more on the spoken word than the written word. Do not contact them months in advance and then leave it at that. Contact them again a few weeks in advance and then again a few days in advance. Be prepared that they may have to cancel due to community events or health issues. If that is the case, contact the community again and ask for their advice on inviting another elder.

Elders may include smudging3 as part of the acknowledgement so ensure the facility is alerted in advance.

At the expected time of arrival, have someone at the front door of the building to greet the elder and their travelling companion. Do not assume that they will shake hands. As you are introducing yourself, wait to see if they offer their hand. If they do, do not squeeze their hands – do not apply any pressure greater than what they provide; expect it to be a soft hand that you shake and you will be fine. Be sure to let the person who will be introducing and thanking the elder know about handshaking considerations.

At large events consider having a quiet room where the elder can prepare for the smudge or blessing, rest after travelling or before returning to their home. Also, have a snack and a drink available upon their arrival or if it is midday or evening, plan to have a meal available.

  • During the ceremony, everyone stands, hats removed, heads bowed, hands by side or clasped in front.
  • Don’t sit down until you are sure the elder has finished speaking. Do not talk, text or take phone calls during the ceremony.
  • Be in the moment and ask the group or audience to also be in the moment.

1Clark, C., Mayor, City of Saskatoon, Wilson, W., Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, & Culbertson, M., Office of the Treaty Commissioner. (2019). Ayisiyiniwak A Communications Guide kâ-isi-pîkiskwâtoyahk. Saskatoon.ca. Retrieved 3 February 2021, from https://www.saskatoon.ca/sites/default/files/documents/community-services/planning-development/ayisiyiniwak_a_communications_guide_2.0_web_sept2019.pdf

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