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Who is an Elder?


An Elder is any person recognized by a First Nations’ community as having knowledge and understanding of the traditional culture of the community, including the physical manifestation of the culture of the people their spiritual and social traditions. Knowledge and wisdom, coupled with the recognition and respect of the people of the community, are the essential defining characteristics of an Elder. Some Elders have additional attributes, such as those of traditional healer.

In addition to having led an exceptional life based on the traditions, customs and culture of First Nations, an Elder is expected to have qualities such as:

  • Will be knowledgeable of First Nations’ heritage and history;

  • Will be knowledgeable and supportive of traditional First Nations’ ceremonies, protocols and songs;

  • Possess fluency and competency in a First Nations’ language;

  • Will be an advocate of traditional leadership, traditional governance and traditional law;

  • Will be aware and supportive of Treaty rights and history;

  • Will acknowledge the diversity of First Nations cultures, languages and traditions in Saskatchewan;

  • Will work to ensure the inter-generational transfer of traditional First Nations’ knowledge, history, culture, language and practices to the youth;

  • Will support and observe the sacredness of First Nations’ traditions, ceremonies, sites and practices;

  • Will have an understanding, be supportive and play a leading role in their kinship ties; and,

  • Will have a knowledge of First Nations’ traditional healing that may include the use of traditional plants used for healing.

Please note that this list is a starting point towards answering the question: Who is an Elder? Each First Nation has a term that defines these wisdom keepers, knowledge keepers, medicine people, healers and ceremonial persons. The term 'Elder" is a contemporary English word commonly used for these individuals. Many of these individuals are not comfortable with this term, as it does not adequately describe their role. Today, many of these individuals are reverting to the traditional term in their own language. Being an 'Elder' is not just about reaching a certain age but includes many principles.

The SICC is guided and advised by several Elders. Saskatchewan has eight First Nations language groups. Thus, there are eight Elders that comprise the SICC Elders Council (EC). The EC and SICC meet seasonally to discuss the work of the SICC and to discuss future work of the SICC.

What is the Protocol for Eagle Feathers?


The Eagle feather is the most sacred and honoured gift given to an individual. Respect is key in relation to Eagle feathers. Certain people are able to take Eagle feathers from the Eagle. One is given the right to be able to do so. Eagle feathers are obtained from Elders who have the ability to give them to individuals. A feast is held to honour the feathers. The care and responsibility that comes with carrying an Eagle feather must be taught. The Eagle is our most sacred of birds because the Eagle carries our prayers to the Creator and is therefore heard. The Eagle is also our relative and is part of our family. As a part of our family we must care for and respect that it has given up its life so that a person may carry its feathers.To care for Eagle feathers means you must follow certain protocols and procedures. It is an honour to have Eagle feathers. Always keep your Eagle feather in a clean and safe place. Smudge your Eagle feather on a regular basis with prayers to give thanks to our relative the Eagle who gave its life so that you may be honoured with it. To care for an Eagle feather:

  • Smudge yourself thoroughly and say prayers to the Creator;

  • Smudge your Eagle feather with sweetgrass or sage from time to time;

  • Keep your Eagle feather in a clean, safe compartment away from alcohol, drugs and related paraphernalia;

  • A person must not be intoxicated with drugs or alcohol while handling an Eagle feather. The preference is to abstain from an unhealthy lifestyle;

  • You can appoint your parents or grandparents to care for your Eagle feather until such time as you’re prepared to be responsible for it; and,

  • During her menstrual cycle, a woman cannot touch an Eagle feather.

What is Culture?


Culture is a shared or collective understanding of the ceremonies, the language and the laws of each First Nation. Culture and language are inextricably linked to First Nations sovereignty. The sovereign status and uniqueness are based on the languages and the cultures of First Nations people. When these factors no longer exist then we become assimilated into the mainstream culture. We therfore face the possibilty of "losing" the uniqueness and sovereignty of First Nations.

Why is tobacco important to First Nations people?


Tobacco is one of the sacred gifts the Creator gave to the First Nations people. Tobacco has been used traditionally in ceremonies, rituals and prayer for thousands of years for its powerful spiritual meaning. Tobacco has a variety of medicinal purposes. Tobacco establishes a direct communication link between a person and the spiritual world. The most powerful way of communicating with the spirits is to smoke tobacco in a Sacred Pipe. Even before the tobacco is put into the pipe the prayers have already begun. When used in a Sacred Pipe ceremony, the smoke from the tobacco carries the prayers to the Creator and it is offered to the Creator and the four directions. This creates an avenue of dialogue between the human world and the spirit world. In contemporary times, tobacco abuse is common among all people, this includes snuff that is ingested. Prior to the European tobacco distribution, First Nations people had their own tobacco that was used in ceremony. This tobacco was a mixture of Red Willow Bark and other plants that are referred to as Kinnikinnick. Tobacco is also an important part of medicine bundles that are used for protection, in keeping one safe.

What is a tobacco offering?


A tobacco offering is a universal protocol among First Nations people. Other gifts may accompany the tobacco including blankets, cloth (print), guns or horses. Many knowledge keepers or Elders teach that the gifts given are at the discretion of the person. The more contemporary gift is monetary, especially for meetings or other such events when prayer is needed from Elders. Most First Nations Elders will accept tobacco signifying their willingness to offer assistance. Tobacco offerings are given when we gather medicines, roots and berries, when we take anything from Mother Earth including the animals, it is used in hunting practices as well. Always put tobacco down first. Elders today wait patiently for young people to offer tobacco so that they may share stories and knowledge.

What is the proper etiquette for Sweat Lodge ceremonies?


First Nations Elders recommend that each person enters the Sweat Lodge with appropriateness, kindness, and with prayers. Participants have their own reasons for participating in a Sweat Lodge ceremony and participants should undertake the Sweat Lodge ceremony with positive energies, feelings and emotions. First Nations Elders are role models that exemplify this behaviour and mindset. As in any ceremony, appropriate dress and attire is needed. It is suggested that women wear a long dress, covering the upper body and the lower body and carry a towel to cover one's self. It is suggested that men wear shorts with a towel wrapped around their waist. Most Elders suggest that women sit to one side (usually the left of the lodge and up to the middle) and the men sit to the other side. During their menstrual cycle, women do not participate in Sweat Lodges. Speaking is not recommended unless the participant has a reason such as asking for prayers, healing or other such matters. It is suggested that those seeking prayers or healing bring tobacco and cloth (print) to the Sweat Lodge. Whatever else the person brings as a gift is up to the individual. It is widely considered inappropriate to walk between the Sweat Lodge and the fire used to heat the stones. Glasses, jewelry, earrings and cellphones should be removed. There will be berries, fish or other food offered during or after the Sweat Lodge. A participant should not refuse the food offered unless there are health reasons such as allergies. Sweat Lodge protocols and methodologies vary among First Nations. In the past, among the Nehiyaw and Nahkawe, men and women normally had separate Sweat Lodges. Among First Nations today, it is more common for men and women to share Sweat Lodges. The individual leading the Sweat Lodge will give guidance on this matter. The First Nations Elder or Knowledge Keeper conducting a Sweat Lodge will bear in mind the health and well-being of the participants. All First Nations Sweat Lodge ceremonies are intended for prayer and healing. Participating in a Sweat Lodge ceremony can be difficult. In general, each person may leave the Sweat Lodge if they are feeling unwell of feel that they are not able to finish.

What color(s) of cloth do we bring to a ceremony?


Ask an Elder who is knowledgeable in that area, they will instruct you on the proper color(s) based on the ceremony itself.

Elder Interviews/Videos

Late Elder Pauline Pelly - Quote Video

Late Elder Pauline Pelly - Quote Video
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Late Elder Pauline Pelly - Quote Video

Late Elder Pauline Pelly - Quote Video

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Elder Dorothy Nippi Nahkawe Teaching

Elder Dorothy Nippi Nahkawe Teaching

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Elder Peter Nippi, Saulteaux  - 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

Elder Peter Nippi, Saulteaux - 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages

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Elder Dorothy Nippi Nahkawe Kinship

Elder Dorothy Nippi Nahkawe Kinship

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