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Program Elders

The Aboriginal Field of Study’s program Elders are people who can integrate the needs of the program and Aboriginal values and principles. Our program Elders are people who carry their own knowledge and life wisdom with respect, while respecting the locations of our students, faculty and staff. Program Elders uphold the integrity of the Aboriginal Field of Study (AFS) while supporting students in the development of their wholistic healing practice and knowledge bundle. Program Elders’ involvement in the AFS enriches our program with their life experience, knowledge and ability to affirm Indigenous ethics and teachings.

Program Elders also bring community engagement into the AFS and create a presence of relationships within community. These people help to link culture, community and academy while also teaching students on how to work with community Elders. Program Elders may also facilitate the presence of diverse teachings from a variety of other Elders, nations and communities.

The primary reason for program Elders within the AFS is to expose students to the respectful blending of culture and professional knowledge in their own learning journeys. They also know of the importance of healing and re-learning about our history, worldview, language and culture. A program Elder will walk in a good way with the collective team. These people, because of their own wellness and healing, model and conduct inclusivity at all levels of teaching and learning. The AFS regards their presence as integral to the delivery of a wholistically based graduate social work program. They provide their reflections and observations of student progress within the program during wholistic evaluations.

Finally, program Elders model and reflect the importance and benefits of living a healthy lifestyle and the importance of healing from the traumas and events that colonialism has created for Indigenous people.

Roles and Responsibilities

For students, Elders can provide a confidential, safe, accepting and caring space while in our program. Elders provide advice and guidance in an empowering manner that supports students’ independent decision making and problem solving skills. As students develop their wholistic practice skills, program Elders create learning and reflective space as students strive to find ways to operationalize cultural teachings with their social work practice skills and knowledge.

Program Elders help our graduate students to balance their professional social work learning with the development of a wholistic knowledge bundle steeped in Indigenous knowledge. They can help students find balance in the two worlds we find ourselves living and working in. Program Elders may also assist students to identify their own ancestry as some students are in the process of learning more about their own cultural identity.

The presence of a Program Elder can lend the presence of a mentor, aunty, uncle, grandparent or teacher. All of these forms of relationships can contribute to the success of our graduates. Program Elders provide their observations, reflections and advice with staff and faculty and participate in all areas of Program development and delivery. Program Elders provide peer support and both informal and formal teachings to enhance awareness of Aboriginal history and worldview. They also can guide Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff and faculty in the development of their own cultural competency of Aboriginal peoples and worldviews. Additionally, faculty can seek out a Program Elder for advice and teachings as they strive to integrate Indigenous curriculum and learning processes in their classes.

In all areas of the Faculty of Social Work, program Elders are essential consultants around new developments at the school. They are involved in project conceptions and design from the onset through to completion. They represent the AFS in the community and at university events. They are present during meetings, classes, conferences, workshops and other school events.

Program Elders provide quality assurance at all levels to ensure that Indigenous peoples concerns, issues and worldviews are considered and incorporated in the Faculty of Social Work. Program Elders are also responsible for teaching courses within the AFS and in doing so provide culturally responsive learning environments for students to reflect on their own identity and practice.

Program Elders do have limitations and are not meant to replicate Traditional “Bundle” Elders who carry traditional knowledges of sacred ceremonies (although they may). Program Elders will not force or insert their advice where it is not requested. They are not expected to be present at all events or activities. Program Elders, may help coordinate the presence of other Bundle Elders and help with the expansion and inclusion of ceremony in the program.

Program Elders require those who are making requests to be clear, respectful and thoughtful. When something is requested of a program Elder, this ought to be done in a respectful manner and in consideration and in conversation with that person. And when asked it is important that their input be regarded with respect. One must follow through on the advice of the Elders.

When approaching a program Elder with a request, this request is preceded with an offering of tobacco, one of the sacred medicines. This tobacco is wrapped in a small cotton cloth and offered once the request is explained and the program Elder understands what is being requested. This practice demonstrates a key Indigenous value of reciprocity and respect. The sacred tobacco carries the spirit of the request and this offering demonstrates respect for the knowledge and guidance of the program Elder. Program Elders need to see that their role and contribution is respected, valued and important to the whole program: students, faculty and staff. When this respect is enacted, they are inspired to continue to positively grow and learn in their relationships within the program, school and community.

How the Program Elders Engage with the Aboriginal Field of Study

  • participation in team meetings
  • participation at faculty and coordinator meetings
  • participation in the program management committee
  • admission interviews
  • student evaluations
  • course teaching
  • facilitation of access to traditional ceremonies
  • conducting traditional ceremonies
  • curriculum development and content reviewing
  • program development
  • guest speaking
  • faculty and staff support
  • student support
  • internal support and guidance to leadership

About the Title of Program Elder

We recognize that the term Elder can foster a variety of meanings and interpretations depending on who is the speaker and who is the listener. For this reason, we have sought to clarify our use of the term program Elder. Program Elders help in the union of Indigenous worldviews within the academy. In our context, program Elder will refer to one’s capacity to carry the vision of the AFS program and to represent the program in a good way.

Program Elders may carry their traditional medicines and have knowledge of their own traditions and ceremonies. Program Elders will care for the cultural safety of the students, faculty and staff. They will be able to foster culturally safe environments where the integrity of the medicines, sacred circle and sacred teachings are enacted and respected.

The Program Elder will be able to ensure that the cultural integrity of the AFS is upheld. There are a variety of program Elders within the AFS: a full-time program Elder-in-residence (on campus) and part-time contract program Elders who are local to the Indigenous territory of the part-time programs.