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Program Elders

The Indigenous Field of Study’s program Elders integrate the needs of the program and Indigenous values and principles. 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 a confidential, safe, accepting and caring, 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 cultural perspective steeped in Indigenous knowledge. They can help students find balance in the two worlds where we find ourselves living and working. 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.

Requests of Our Elders

Program Elders require those who are making requests to be clear, respectful and thoughtful. Requests to a program Elder must be made in a respectful manner, in consideration and conversation with the Elder. Program Elders will not force or insert their advice where it is not requested. When requested, it is important that their input be regarded with respect and 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.

Roles and Level of Engagement 

Program Elders do have limitations and are not meant to replicate Traditional “Bundle” Elders who carry traditional knowledges of sacred ceremonies (although they may). 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. The following are ways in which our program Elders engage with the Indigenous 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

There are a variety of program Elders in the Indigenous Field of Study program including 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.