Cultural Protocols & Policies for Working with Elders

Given the University of Manitoba's commitment to Indigenous Achievement, we feel very strongly about the respectful treatment of Elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers who figure so prominently in our communities.

As such, the following protocols must be followed:


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.

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 do what you are asking 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. Whatever your views are on tobacco, it is still a sacred medicine to Traditional  people.

*NOTE* Traditional Teachers/Elders/Medicines/Ceremonies should not be requested if alcohol is present.


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.


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.



If you have any questions about the cultural protocols and processes, please contact:

Christine Cyr
Director, Indigenous Student Centre