A group of women gathered in a circle beating a PowWow drum.

Cultural protocols

The following information will help you determine the steps to take when working with Elders and planning ceremonies. If you are engaging with an Elder and offering an honorarium, please ensure that you have read and followed the cultural protocols for working with Elders prior to filling out the appropriate forms.

If you have any questions regarding the protocols and policies, please contact Christine Cyr at christine.cyr@umanitoba.ca.

Protocols for working with Elders

1. Extending invitations to Elders - tobacco

Tobacco is extremely important in the Indigenous cultures of the prairies – it is one of our sacred medicines. Tobacco is used to open communication, whether to talk with an Elder to ask questions or when requesting ceremony, or when praying to Creator. When we pass tobacco, we are honouring a tradition that is very old. It is said that it is the leader of our medicines because it comes first. Whatever your views are on tobacco, it is still a sacred medicine to Traditional people.

Elders must be offered tobacco when you ask them to share their knowledge and/or attend an event. The exchange of tobacco is similar to a contract between two parties: the Elder is agreeing to do what is asked; the one offering the tobacco has obligations to respect the Teachings and the Teacher. The tobacco must be passed prior to the activity/event (as far in advance as possible).

When giving tobacco, place it in front of the Elder and state your request. If you hand it directly to the Elder you do not give him/her the opportunity to accept or pass on your request – it takes away their choice.

It is very important to be specific about your request so that the Elder knows exactly what you are asking.

If the Elder accepts your request, s/he will pick up the tobacco and will then do her/his best to help you. If they cannot fulfill your ask, they will say so and not accept the tobacco. (It is perfectly appropriate to ask for a referral if the Elder is unable to comply with your request).

Tobacco can be given in a pouch, wrapped in a piece of cloth and can sometimes be given in the form of a cigarette. The minimum amount of tobacco is the amount needed to use in a Ceremonial Pipe, but a pouch of tobacco is the most common form. Tobacco is a sacred medicine and only commercial tobacco or tobacco in its natural form (kinikinik) is acceptable. Some people have asked if a mixture of 'healthy' herbs or other medicines can be used instead of tobacco – the answer is NO.

Note: Traditional Teachers/Elders/Medicines/Ceremonies should not be requested if alcohol is present.

2. Gifts

Before the modern era, Elders were given food, clothing and other necessities in exchange for their help. It is still acceptable/appropriate to provide the Elder with a gift for sharing their time, knowledge and wisdom. This gift would be given in addition to an honorarium that would remunerate them for their time, travel and efforts.

3. Elder

Always ensure there is a host/escort for the Elder if s/he has been invited on campus. The host/escort is responsible for transportation, parking passes, greeting the Elder, traveling with them to various locations on campus, providing water, coffee, etc. and ensuring that all other protocols are met. Some Elders have a friend or family member who act as a helper, while others may be open to the organizer assigning a helper. You may also need to cover per diems for the Elder helper.

Honorariums and travel costs for Elders

Before exploring the appropriate honorarium for the Elder you would like to engage, you must ensure that all cultural protocols have been followed.

New protocols regarding honorariums have been established in order to protect Elders under the terms of Canada Revenue Agency regulations. Determine which category applies to your situation in order to follow the appropriate steps to provide an honorarium to the Elder you are working with:

I. Process for working with visiting Elders – less than $5,000 per year

If an Elder engages with the University and an honorarium is provided, the Elder's Social Insurance Number and address are required. This information only needs to be acquired once. To determine if the Elder you are working with is already listed with the University of Manitoba, please contact Christine Cyr, Director of the Indigenous Student Centre: christine.cyr@umanitoba.ca or 204-474-6825.

If the total provision of honorariums by the University of Manitoba to an Elder is more than $500 in a fiscal year, a T4A will be issued to the Elder. The person who is engaging with the Elder must inform him/her about these stipulations up front. If the amount of honorariums provided is less than $500 in a fiscal year, the Elder will not receive a T4A.

All payments/honorariums issued will be in the form of a cheque. It is encouraged that the process for requesting the cheque is initiated in a timely manner, so that the cheque can be ready to hand to the Elder at the time of the event/ceremony, etc.

Non-Employment Payment to Elders Under $5,000 (PDF)

Notes about the form:

  • The "Payment to Elders" form says: "An invoice, or written/electronic documentation, must be submitted with this form that outlines the mutually agreed upon arrangement." As this may not be available, other documentation may be accepted such as a copy of a meeting agenda that includes the Elders name as a guest.
  • In the upper right hand corner of the payment form, an NP number is requested. An automated system is being created that will generate consecutive NP numbers, but in the interim, use a numeric sequence that can be identifiable to your unit/department.

II. Process for working with cultural teachers and performers

Other individuals may be brought in to do cultural work (cultural teachers, performers, etc). When engaging cultural teachers and performers, the same procedures indicated in Section I: Working with Elders should be followed. Again, all payments will be issued in the form of a cheque.

Non-Employment Payment to Canadian Individual Under $5,000 (PDF)

III. Process for working with Elders - more than $5,000 per year

If an individual engages with the University in an on-going relationship where compensation exceeds $5,000 per tax year, this relationship becomes an employment relationship. The best examples of this are our Elders-in-Residence programs in the Indigenous Student Centre and Ongomiizwin. An agreement would be made between the individual and the University, a SIN would be provided along with other relevant personal information in order to issue payment and a T4A would be issued at the appropriate time.

Guidelines for honorarium amounts
These guidelines deal with the financial compensation for Elders. Please note that anyone seeking to engage an Elder must also follow cultural protocols that include approaching the Elder in the appropriate manner, being clear and specific in the request and presenting tobacco appropriately.

These amounts are guidelines. There may be flexibility in these amounts if the nature of the work differs from regular events/ceremonies.

  • Half day (up to 3 hours): $200
  • Full day (up to 7 hours): $400
  • Special event/ceremony (that might not be longer than 3 hours of their time at the event, but would require them to do pre-event preparation or post-event debrief): $400

Travel costs
All travel and per diem costs for an Elder's visit should be provided in addition to the honorarium. These costs can be processed as a cash advance (prior to the visit) or as a regular travel claim (after the visit) through the Concur Travel and Expense Tool.

Smudging and pipe ceremonies

Smudging is an Indigenous tradition that involves the burning of sweetgrass, sage and/or cedar. Sage and cedar smudges produce a very strong and distinct aroma but the smoke associated with them is minimal and lasts a very short time. Sweetgrass has a very mild aroma and produces less smoke. A smudge is burned primarily for purification and to help to create a positive mind set.

Tobacco is used in pipe ceremonies by a pipe carrier.

Migizii Agamik is a smudge-friendly building. Smudges may take place at any time in this building.

Occasional smudging, pipe ceremony location procedures

In order to reduce the number of inquiries regarding the smell of smoke in buildings and in order to inform the appropriate departments (Physical Plant, Engineering Services, etc) that a smudge will be taking place, a process has been designed to ensure that the integrity of the ceremony is maintained. Whenever a smudge is going to happen on campus, please use these protocols:

  1. The Indigenous Student Centre must be notified at least 48 hours in advance of the ceremony so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Please email:
    Christine Cyr, Director or Carl Stone, Student Advisor
  2. A notification sign must be posted on the door of the room where the smudge/pipe ceremony will take place.
  3. Depending on room ventilation, there may be other requirements such as opening a window, closing a door, etc.

Traditional Territories Acknowledgement

A Traditional Territory Acknowledgement is a reflection and expression of gratitude that recognizes the Indigenous land we occupy as a community while promoting a shared commitment to understanding historical events that have led us to present day.

All major events at the University of Manitoba, such as awards ceremonies, luncheons, lecture series, celebrations and announcements, include an acknowledgement of the traditional territories on which our campuses are located. Stating this acknowledgement publicly is also an opportunity for the UM community to increase their awareness of Indigenous history and perspectives.

For guidance on how to include a territory acknowledegment in your event, please contact the Indigenous Engagement team at indigenous.engagement@umanitoba.ca.

The University of Manitoba campuses are located on original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and Dene peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation.

We respect the Treaties that were made on these territories, we acknowledge the harms and mistakes of the past, and we dedicate ourselves to move forward in partnership with Indigenous communities in a spirit of reconciliation and collaboration.

Contact us

Christine Cyr
Director, Indigenous Student Centre
Migizii Agamik – Bald Eagle Lodge
114 Sidney Smith St.
University of Manitoba (Fort Garry campus)
Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2 Canada

204-474-8850
1-800-432-1960, ext. 8850

Ruth Shead
Coordinator, Indigenous Achievement
Migizii Agamik – Bald Eagle Lodge
114 Sidney Smith St.
University of Manitoba (Fort Garry campus)
Winnipeg, MB R3T 2N2 Canada

204-474-6747