Having an Elder present at the Blanket Exercise can have a powerful impact on the workshop. As Elders, they can provide information about the local context and answer questions that participants might have about what they learned during the exercise. It is important that Elders are approached respectfully and that Indigenous protocol is followed when establishing this relationship.
Who Are 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.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit Elders are acknowledged by their respective communities as an ‘Elder’ through a community selection process. Gender and age are not factors in determining who is an Elder. Traditional teachers are those individuals learning under the mentorship and guidance of an Elder.
Knowledge keepers hold traditional knowledge and information passed down through oral history, customs and traditions which encompass beliefs, values, worldviews, language, and spiritual ways of life.
Remember that Elders and traditional knowledge keepers may also be emotionally impacted or triggered by the Blanket Exercise. When inviting an Elder or traditional knowledge keeper, offer the script in advance and provide a detailed explanation including the topics that will be covered. For more information on offering support during and after the Blanket Exercise, please see Health Support.
A request should be sent well in advance when extending invitations to Elders. Here are some guidelines on how to extend an invitation to an Elder in person:
Offer Tobacco and/or Gift
For First Nations or Métis Elders, one must offer tobacco. Tobacco is one of the four sacred medicines, and it is offered when making a request. The offering can be in the form of a tobacco pouch or tobacco tie (loose tobacco wrapped in a small cloth). The tobacco pouch or tie should be prepared by the person making the request. As the pouch or tie is being made it is good to think about what you are asking for, and put good thoughts and prayers into the offering. When making a request, offer the tobacco by holding it in your left hand (in front of you), state your request (be specific), and if the Elder accepts your request place the tobacco in their left hand.
Inuit Elders do not expect tobacco offerings, because traditionally it is not part of their customs. A small gift may be offered in the same token as one would make a request to a First Nations or Métis Elder. Place the gift in front of you and state your request, the Elder indicates acceptance of your request by taking the gift in their hands.
The exchange of tobacco/gift is similar to a contract between two parties where the Elder is agreeing to do what is asked, and the one offering is making a commitment to respect the process. Ask the Elder if there is anything they need for the Exercise.
Invitation by phone or email
Preferably, requests are made to Elders in person. However, many Elders also accept requests by phone or email. If you are making a request to an Elder by phone or email, let the Elder know you have tobacco or a gift to offer when you see them, then make your request.