As adults who work in educational settings we are trained to lead students through an array of experiences, some that even we are unfamiliar with.  And often when there is a difference in culture, we are more afraid to be wrong then we are curious about what is right.

It may be helpful in Indigenous activities to separate the types of activities into the categories of protocol and ceremony. At times we are overwhelmed by the thought of undertaking ceremony, when really all we need to do is follow protocol. These are not official definitions, think of this more like a helpful framework for approaching different cultural activities.

Protocol: are the rules detailing how certain activities should be carried out and how participants must conduct themselves. Protocols are easily learned and should always be followed as a sign of respect to a culture and its participants.
Examples of protocols include

  • How to approach an elder
  • What you should wear to a smudge
  • Who can go to a sweat
  • Who can dance at a Powwow

Ceremony: is an event within which we formally invite the creator to witness our actions. Ceremony should only be undertaken by members of a culture or individuals who have been gifted the ceremony but Elders or members of a community who understand the practice and norms for doing so.
Examples of a ceremony can include

  • Pipe ceremony
  • Sweat lodge
  • Smudge
  • A fallen feather at a Powwow

The beautiful thing about all of this knowledge is that it is only a respectful question away. If you are ever unsure, just ask.