Protocol for Inviting Elders and Knowledge Holders to Campus

Elders and traditional teachers have a vital and respected role in the First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures. We always honour our Elders when we invite them to provide traditional welcomes, share their knowledge within classrooms or at events, or attend a function as an honoured guest.

We recommend that specific protocols be followed when working with or engaging with Indigenous Peoples and communities. At UNBC we have the following procedure in place when inviting Elders to campus.

Relationship building

In today's world, fostering meaningful relationships is of utmost importance. To guide us on this journey, we can turn to the knowledge of Verna J. Kirkness and Ray Barnhardt, who have highlighted the importance of the "Four R's" in their article on First Nations and Higher Education: The Four R's — Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, Responsibility. Let's break down these principles for building strong relationships:

Step 1: Respect

  • Respect is the foundation of any healthy relationship. It involves recognizing the value and dignity of every individual. In your academic and research endeavours, show respect by actively listening to diverse perspectives, acknowledging the expertise of others, and using inclusive language that reflects the diversity of the world.
  • In addition to showing respect, it's essential to be sincere in your interactions. Authenticity and genuine respect for others' opinions and experiences will help build trust. Sincere gestures like actively engaging in dialogue, seeking to understand, and showing empathy can go a long way in nurturing meaningful connections.

Step 2: Relevance

  • Relevance is about making your interactions meaningful and applicable. In academia, consider the real-world implications of your research and writing. Ensure that your efforts are not disconnected from the issues that matter.
  • When considering the relevance of your work, it's vital to be sincere about your intentions. Ask yourself how your research or writing can be a genuine contribution. Avoid superficial connections and strive for a deeper, sincere commitment to making a positive impact.

Step 3: Reciprocity

  • Reciprocity means giving back and maintaining a two-way exchange in relationships. In your academic journey, foster reciprocity by collaborating, sharing knowledge, and supporting your peers. It's essential to recognize the interdependence of academic growth and social progress.
  • In reciprocal relationships, sincerity is a key factor. Being honest and open in your collaborations, sharing of knowledge, and support for others is crucial. Sincerity ensures that the exchanges are meaningful and based on genuine intentions.
  • Sustainable relationships require continuous effort. Regular check-ins, offering assistance, and being open to receiving help. Maintaining reciprocity demands ongoing commitment and the willingness to adapt as the relationship evolves.

Step 4: Responsibility

  • Taking responsibility means being accountable for your actions and the impact of your work. As an academic writer and researcher, it's your duty to be aware of the potential consequences of your words and research findings. Use your platform responsibly to contribute positively to social justice and human rights.
  • When taking responsibility for your actions, it's vital to do so with sincerity. Acknowledge any unintended harm or biases in your work sincerely. Commit to rectifying them and learn from your mistakes with an open heart.
  • Responsibility in relationships also involves the effort to resolve conflicts and address challenges with sincerity. Sustainable relationships weather the storms by confronting issues head-on, seeking resolutions with respect and a genuine desire for resolution.

By adding sincerity and recognizing the continuous effort needed for sustainable relationships, you strengthen the foundation of the 4 R's, ensuring that your connections are not only respectful, relevant, reciprocal, and responsible but also deeply authentic and long-lasting.

Invitation offering

An invitation should be made at least two weeks in advance of an event or scheduled meeting. The invitation can be made in person, by mail or by email. If making the request in person, you would first offer tobacco as this is following traditional protocol. If the request was made by telephone or email, tobacco can be offered at the first meeting. Through relationship building it is important to note if it is culturally appropriate to gift tobacco as not all communities use tobacco as gift giving.

Giving the opportunity to invite Elders to campus is very important. This is a chance to learn about their ceremonial practices. We suggest using that chance to ask them what their ceremonial gifting practices are, tobacco offerings are a great way to start, but learning and practicing the many ceremonial/traditions of each Indigenous group is very important. 

When inviting the Elder ensure to give them as much detail as possible about:

  • Accommodations
  • Event name and details such as date, time, duration, and location
  • Who is the audience they would be speaking with
  • Transportation (This is a good time to also ensure that the Elder has a way arrive to UNBC as some Elders do not drive, do not live close to public transit, or need accessible parking due to mobility issues. Prince George Taxi does have a taxi voucher program, contact UNBC Purchasing for more information.)
  • Request for/Intention of invitation:
    • Are you requesting a Traditional Territory Welcome? A reminder that only First Nation members can provide a territorial welcome.
    • Are you requesting knowledge sharing within your classroom? What is the information you would like covered or discussed?
  • Always ensure that the Elder is comfortable with the invitation and request. Elders are experts, but this does not mean they are comfortable speaking on all topics of leading or participating in all ceremonies.

Planning for the visit

  • Include a pre-meet and greet with the Elder (new Elders) to show them the parking, entrance, direction to the venue or class and who they should be looking for when they get here. Also, during the pre-meet ask them any questions regarding their presentation if they have specific needs or wants, and if giving a traditional welcome provide them with the traditional welcome for the particular campus that the University uses if they don't have their own.
  • Ask the Elder if they have an escort that will be assisting them and/or always ensure a host has been dedicated to the Elder’s visit to campus. This person should meet the Elder on arrival and stay with the Elder while they are at UNBC so they can answer any questions and make them feel welcome here. Provide the Elder with their host’s contact information.
  • Provide a map of campus along with highlighting the Elders parking stalls. If the Elders parking stalls are full, they can use the accessibility stalls or regular parking. If an Elder requires the use of regular parking, ensure that the payment for the parking is taken care of.
  • Make transportation arrangements if necessary.
  • Call the Elder a week/few days before the event to confirm the date, time, meeting place, and any other details for the day of the event.
  • Ask the Elder if they have a preference for room setup – i.e. should the room be set up in a circle format? Facilitating sessions in a circle creates a safe and open environment where everyone is equal around the circle.
  • Plan for any accommodations as requested by the Elder. If they have mobility issues, ensure the event setup is designed with them in mind.
  • Provide the honorarium for the Elder at the end of their visit and/or submit a claim to process reimbursement of travel or accommodation.
  • Check out the Inviting an Elder - Checklist to ensure you are ready for the visit.

UNBC's Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) is also available to any First Nations Elders. For any questions regarding this please reach out to Human Resources.

Hosting (day of visit)

  • Provide your phone number and advise them to call you once they arrive and meet them at the parking lot or agreed upon entrance/location.
  • Offer water or a hot beverage to the Elder before the event begins.
  • Point out the closest washroom facilities.
  • Offer the Elder water, snacks and meals as appropriate throughout the day.
  • Be sure to thank the Elder at the end of their visit, provide them with the honorarium (and gift if applicable) that you have prepared and relay any information regarding reimbursement of their travel or accommodations.

Honorarium Guidelines

Guideline for Honorariums for Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Holders

Cash Disbursement Form

Cheque Disbursement Form

It is the responsibility of the person/group seeking the presence of an Elder to provide a monetary honorarium for the Elder’s time, expertise, and sharing of knowledge. Include a personalized thank you card as part of the honorarium process.

If you have further questions or looking for information, please contact the Office of Indigenous Initiatives.