Appendix F: Working with Elders

Prior communication

Be clear on the Elder’s role and prepare them by providing background information.

Communicate how long you will need the Elder’s service, and the compensation that will be provided.

During the event

  • Create a comforting and friendly environment. Avoid places that may trigger traumatic memories, such as churches.
  • Do not expect Elders to stand for long period of time. Ensure that comfortable chairs are available.
  • Provide nourishing food. Be aware of any dietary needs in advance.
  • When sharing food, always make sure that Elders are served first. Unless they prefer to serve themselves, it is customary that someone else brings an Elder their requested food and drink. You should check-in with Elders regularly and offer to bring them snacks or drinks.
  • Create opportunities for them to take breaks or excuse themselves as needed.
  • Be prepared to adjust your volume of speech.
  • Do not expect Elders to read a lot of textual material. If reading is required, supply large print versions.
  • Be sure to address them as Elder (name) rather than just by name.
  • Ask for consent before photographing or video recording a ceremonial event.
  • Make every effort to ensure the Elder’s physical and emotional comfort.


  • Small physical gifts are often given in addition to honoraria. These could include food, cards, small items such as a mug or piece of artwork, or traditional medicines. If you don’t know what to give, you can always ask the Elder in advance what they like.


  • Elders should always be compensated for their work. This is a way of recognising the value of the wisdom that Elders share, and accords with traditional protocols around honouring the role of Elders in the community. This should be budgeted for.
  • If the Elder is going to be providing ongoing services, consider developing an agreement about fees-for-service if the Elder chooses. Ensure Elders are compensated equally to other participants. If it is a one-time event, an honourarium is usually more appropriate.
  • Travel time and expenses are usually compensated as well.
  • If your university already has a relationship with Indigenous communities, ask how much honoraria is generally given. Check in with Elder to make sure this is appropriate in advance.
  • Most Elders receive retirement benefits and are only allowed to earn a small amount of money, after which point their pensions may be reduced or they may have to pay unexpected taxes. Make sure Elders are aware of this, and develop a compensation approach that will not cause financial harm. In some cases, gift cards are preferred to cash honoraria. Another option is to increase the honoraria to include taxes. As always, the best thing to do is ask the Elder. If you encounter institutional limitations around honoraria, try your best to advocate for the Elder’s preference.
  • If there is any instance where Elders are required to give their social insurance numbers this should be communicated and agreed upon prior to the event.

Written with input from and permission by Yuxwelupton (Butch Dick), Songhees First Nation, Bob Joseph’s Indigenous Corporate Training (Retrieved from:


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Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers Copyright © 2018 by Asma-na-hi Antoine; Rachel Mason; Roberta Mason; Sophia Palahicky; and Carmen Rodriguez de France is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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