Elders are recognized for their cultural knowledge and wisdom. Their “credentials” are not determined by a university or other institution; their credibility is built on trust gained from community and other knowledge holders, expertise from lived experience and oral transmission of knowledge, and their practice of generosity.
There are Indigenous knowledge keepers who may not yet be recognized as “Elders” but who nevertheless carry teachings and practices and are recognized for their expertise. This includes youth who are fluent speakers, cultural practitioners, and teachers of song, dance, stories, art, and environmental stewardship. Learning from Elders, these knowledge keepers are continuing the transmission, retention, and sharing of Indigenous knowledge systems.
In recent years, post-secondary institutions have been privileged to work with Elders and other Indigenous knowledge keepers in the classroom. For students, having Elders in their classroom creates a place where living knowledge and presence remind them to receive teachings in a loving, caring way. Elders and other knowledge keepers come with a breadth of wellness and cultural connections that aid in transformational learning. Non-Indigenous teachers can facilitate knowledge, but could not and would not necessarily be accepted to shape relevant cultural teachings and Indigenous self-determination themselves.
Bringing Elders and other knowledge keepers into the classroom requires considerable preparatory work, and you will need to be aware of the procedures for working with Elders in your institution. The following protocols and procedures can guide your work with Elders and other knowledge keepers:
- The Guide for Curriculum Developers, another guide in the Indigenization learning series, shares procedures from Royal Roads University’s Working with Elders (see Appendix F of that guide).
- If you want to interview an Elder for a program or course, you need to accommodate the protection of knowledge systems and practise respectful behaviour. The National Aboriginal Health Organization’s Interviewing Elders [PDF] provides practical tips.
Below, the College of the Rockies describes its relationship with Elders in the classroom and how the knowledge shared across the institution with students, staff, and teachers is respected.
“From coffee mugs to compensation”:
Promising practice from College of the Rockies
College of the Rockies currently employs more than 20 Ktunaxa Nation members on a part-time basis as Ktunaxa Knowledge Holders and Elders. The resident Elders have been paid employees for many years, but we have only recently begun providing financial compensation to other Ktunaxa Elders and experts in cultural knowledge. While the college has always recognized the valuable contributions brought to classrooms and to students by Ktunaxa community members, we wanted to reflect that appreciation through more tangible means. This vision was brought to action in partnership with Ktunaxa Nation Council’s Traditional Knowledge and Language Sector through the development of Ktunaxa 100: Introduction to Ktunaxa Peoples.
“These Ktunaxa community representatives provide integral support to our Indigenous Education Services, engaging in consultations with faculty members along with our resident Elders on how to bring Ktunaxa knowledge and worldviews into courses and programs,” says College of the Rockies’ Indigenous Education Coordinator, Avery Hulbert.
“I feel that Ktunaxa Elder involvement is important because it provides voice for our people and youth can see us in their courses and they want to be here,” adds Ktunaxa Elder kȼikaǂi paǂki (Kay Shottanana).
“There are many ways that College of the Rockies and the Ktunaxa Nation work together to support our students,” says Darrell Bethune, College of the Rockies Dean, Business and University Studies. “Welcoming members of the Nation into our classrooms to share their knowledge and history is one way that we live our values and build an appreciation of people, land and culture. I’m pleased that we are now able to recognize the value of their contributions in a more concrete way.”
During the fall 2017 semester, Ktunaxa community members participated in 16 College of the Rockies programs, including hairstyling, nursing, English, and biology.
Fig 2.2: Elders by College of the Rockies, 2017. Permission granted to use and share openly.