So You’ve Invited an Indigenous Speaker?
March 27, 2023
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Protocols for Interacting with Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers
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Indigenous Peoples and communities are diverse - there is no single pan-Indigenous way of being or knowing. While many communities share commonalities, each First Nation, Inuit, or Metis community has a distinct culture and set of practices. What we’ve offered below are minimum protocols for respect when interacting with Indigenous peoples and inviting them into your communities in the Canadian (Northern Turtle Island) context. You are invited to do more learning and to practice curiosity when connecting with specific peoples in your specific contexts.
Elders and Knowledge Keepers
Elders and knowledge keepers are those recognized within their own communities as people who hold and share traditional knowledge and experience. Oftentimes when Elders are invited to speak they are sharing personal stories and from their experiences. It’s helpful to be aware of the emotional labour that people are being asked to do. There are times in which an event should not go ahead without being informed by local Indigenous knowledge. For example, at a KAIROS Blanket Exercise it is required for an Indigenous co-facilitator be included, and that an honorarium be offered to them.
Elders/Knowledge Keepers can:
Where to find an Elder?
When reaching out to Elders/Knowledge Keepers, be aware of your words and internal biases. Be respectful and avoid terms that may be offensive (review this Indigenous Terminology guide to learn more). Elders truly are ‘elders’ and keepers of sacred knowledge and should be approached with deference and courtesy.
Honorariums and Offering Gifts
In the same way that you would offer an honorarium for pulpit supply it is important to plan for an honourarium for Indigenous Elders/Knowledge Keepers who are invited to share at your event. Their lived-experience and knowledge are valuable, and it is just and equitable that they be honoured in the same way as any other guest speaker. Keep in mind that an elder is likely a retired senior, and may be living on a fixed income, and so you/your group should cover the full costs of their participation in your event.
An honorarium should cover (but be not limited to) the cost of travel and the person’s time. A minimum of $125 is recommended for an event of a couple hours, like a KAIROS Blanket Exercise or bringing greetings to open an event. A rate of at least $60/hr plus travel costs should apply for longer engagements (ie, a day of training). We recommend asking the person how they’d like to receive the honourarium (ie, cheque, cash, e-transfer, etc.,) as they may require the funds immediately to cover their travel costs.
An honour gift is also sometimes appropriate to give (in addition to an honourarium). Do some research into the local context of the community your guest comes from - perhaps there’s a specific appropriate gift to give. Or, there may be something meaningful from your context to give (ie, a church quilt group gifting a blanket). Consider what is locally and culturally appropriate.
A gift of tobacco is often suggested. It is one of the four sacred medicines, and is a traditional gift in many Indigenous communities that is given when making a request (in this case, requesting the Elder to share their knowledge with you/your community). If they receive it, it means they agree to the request. Some communities (like in coastal BC) tobacco is not a common gift. Choosing another kind of gift may require some local inquiries. One elder from Bella Bella, BC, very happily received a gift of coffee beans and generously reciprocated.
Learn more about these protocols and more with these resources:
Written by Shannon Perez and the Canadian Indigenous Ministry Committee
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