Cultural Protocol at UCalgary

The following guide outlines cultural observances to be followed by UCalgary students, faculty and staff who wish to engage Traditional Knowledge Keepers or cultural resource experts both on and off-campus.


First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples of Canada have distinct histories, complex belief systems, and diverse cultural and social practices. The cultural protocols included here provide guiding principles for the UCalgary community as it strives to respect and honour the First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples of Canada, and aligns with important strategic documents including Eyes High and ii’ taa’poh’to’p:

Eyes High Strategy (2017-22)

UCalgary’s Eyes High Strategy outlines foundational commitments to research and scholarship, quality learning and integration with our diverse, vibrant community. Key to our success as a university is an inclusive, curiosity-driven and respectful campus culture.

Establishing cultural protocol guidelines for engaging First Nations, Métis and Inuit1 communities directly contributes to a campus where all peoples are valued and respected. Our Academic and Research Plans help us attract scholars from around the world, with diversity of thought, culture and respect for alternatives. 


These guidelines align with UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, which “will guide the University of Calgary on its path of transformation and communicate its commitment and responsibility for truth and reconciliation.”

Through the Indigenous Strategy, the university has committed to developing a campus community that understands the histories and worldviews of Indigenous peoples and the importance of connection to land.

1 For advice on protocol for Inuit Traditional Knowledge Keepers, please contact the Arctic Institute of North America.

Engaging Traditional Knowledge Keepers

Traditional Knowledge Keepers may be invited to the University of Calgary by students, faculty, and staff to participate in various cultural events1, course offerings (such as class lectures), and community consultations. Traditional Knowledge Keepers who are willing to share traditional knowledge and cultural practices enrich university life by informing research and teaching, educating faculty, students, and staff, and leading cultural events on campus.

In order to establish and maintain positive relationships with community, it is imperative that representatives of the university honour, respect, and learn the cultural protocols of Traditional Knowledge Keepers from the point of contact, throughout the engagement, and beyond.

All costs associated with the engagement of Traditional Knowledge Keepers are the sole responsibility of the individual unit that has extended the invitation. 

When engaging Traditional Knowledge Keepers, ceremonialists, traditional drummers and/or dancers for special events that include the serving of alcohol, please consult the Office of the Vice Provost (Indigenous Engagement) for advice on appropriate protocol.

Protocol and Procedures for Cultural Requests 

For most of Alberta, it is customary to honour Traditional Knowledge Keepers or cultural resource experts with gifts of gratitude, which may be non-monetary and monetary in nature2. When inviting Traditional Knowledge Keepers or cultural resource experts to campus, the following protocol is recommended:

Invitation /Request

When inviting a Traditional Knowledge Keeper to share their knowledge (lecture), lead a ceremony, offer blessings, or engage in consultation, it is important to make the request as specific as possible. Requests for personal ceremonial guidance and/or spiritual teachings should be made in person. The acceptance of tobacco in the Alberta and Western Prairies region (and cloth if appropriate) signifies a commitment or acceptance of the request. For more in-depth, knowledge around protocol in other regions of the country, it is imperative that individuals connect appropriately with Traditional Knowledge Keepers3 and/or local cultural resource people from First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities.

Offerings (Cultural)

Traditional Knowledge Keepers within the Alberta region customarily accept tobacco (usually pouch) as an acknowledgment of a ceremonial request such as a prayer, blessing, or special ceremony. The acceptance of an offering signifies an acceptance of the request. For larger ceremonial events, square metre cuts of cotton broadcloth, representing each of the primary colours (blue, red, white, and yellow)4, may be presented along with the tobacco offering.  Tobacco (and cloth if appropriate) is customarily presented at the time of the request, or just prior to the ceremony or blessing. 

Honoraria (financial)

It is customary that Traditional Knowledge Keepers and/or cultural resource experts be provided with a financial gift5 directly after the event or ceremony is completed. 

  • Honoraria should not be viewed as a payment for service, but rather as a gift in exchange for knowledge, ceremonies, or blessings. 
  • Honoraria should be presented on the day of the event or ceremony in cheque or cash.
  • Please consult with the Accounts Payable Manager ( at least 3 weeks in advance of your event for further clarification and direction. 

Gifts (non-financial)

In addition to honoraria, gifts of gratitude, including blankets and cards are customarily presented after the ceremony or blessing has been completed.  Non-monetary gifts are in addition to honoraria.

Meals, travel, accommodation

If engagement of a Traditional Knowledge Keeper requires travel, it is most appropriate for the institution to take into consideration the costs of travel (within the honoraria and/or via reimbursement) and accommodation. 

Parking and Access

Campus Maps should be provided, noting the location of the meeting and the parking lot specified by the pass. Traditional Knowledge Keepers invited to the university campus should also be provided with parking pass upon arrival or in advance of their visit. 


Traditional Knowledge Keepers invited to the campus may be accompanied by another person for help and support. Attendants, especially ceremonial assistants, may require compensation.


It is imperative that Traditional Knowledge Keepers are greeted personally when and where6 they arrive on campus and are escorted to the set location on campus.  Short bios may be requested in advance for introductory purposes.

1 May include, but is not limited to: opening prayers, honour songs, blessing of the food, smudge ceremonies, pipe ceremonies, talking circles, sweat lodge ceremonies, honouring ceremonies (feather gifting, naming, etc.)

2 For more information, please contact the Office of the Vice Provost (Indigenous Engagement) or The Native Centre

3 May include, but is not limited to: elders, cultural resource experts, recognized ceremonialists, spiritual advisors, and spiritual leaders

4 While these colours are most appropriate and broadly accepted for this region, the colours may vary in other tribal regions. Please check with the office of the VP (Indigenous Engagement) if you have any questions.

5 Please consult with the Office of the Vice Provost (Indigenous Engagement), the Native Centre, Indigenous faculty, and/or the most relevant First Nations community office in Alberta for advice regarding honoraria amounts specific to the region, event, or specific request prior to the invitation or the offering of a financial gift.

6 It is often appropriate to meet the Traditional Knowledge Keepers or cultural guests in the designated parking lot and escort them to the appropriate building. Some of our cultural guests are not familiar with the campus and/or may require special assistance. 

Additional References and Resources

Treaty 7

Bear Robe, A. (2010).  The Victorian Treaties: Sovereign Crown-First Nations Relations and Treaty Federalism, PhD Dissertation, University of Calgary.

Dempsey, Hugh. A., (2015) The Great Blackfoot Treaties. Heritage House, (paperback)

Ottawa, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. (reproduced 1966). The Treaty and Supplementary Treaty No. 7 between Her Majesty the Queen and the Blackfeet and other Indian Tribes, at the Blackfoot Crossing of the Bow River and Fort Macleod, 1877 Ottawa, Queens Printer.

Treaty 7 Tribal Council. The True Spirit and Original Intent of Treaty 7. Montreal, McGill-Queens University Press.

Research Protocol

First Nation’s Information Governance Centre ownership (OCAP), control access and possession of data obtained regarding Aboriginal People.  

Alberta First Nations Information Governance Centre (AFNIGC), OCAP Calgary, Alberta.

Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans, Chapter 9 Ottawa, 2014.

Indigenous Knowledge

Basso, K. (1996). Wisdom Sits in Place: Landscape and Language amoung the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Bastien, B. (2004). Blackfoot Ways of Knowing: The Worldview of the Siksikaitsitapi. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Battiste, M., & Henderson Youngblood, J. (2000). What is Indigenous Knowledge. In M. Battiste, & J. Henderson Youngblood, Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage. Saskatoon: Purich. pp. 35-56.

Cajete, G. (2000). Philosophy of Native Science. In Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe: Clear Light Publishers. pp. 57-83.

Deloria Jr, V. (1973). God is Red: A Native View of Religion. Golden: Fulcrum Publishing.

Erimine, W. (2007).The ethical space of engagement, Indigenous Law Journal, 6 (1), 193-203.

Ermine, W. (2000). Aboriginal Epistimology. In M. Battiste, & J. Barman, First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds (pp. 101-112). Vancouver: UBS Press.

Graveline, F. J. (1998). Circle Works: Transforming Eurocentric Consciousness. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.

Kovach, M. (2009). Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press Incorporated.

Little Bear, L. (2000). Jagged Worldviews Colliding. In M. Battiste, Reclamining Indigenous Voice and Vision. Vancouver: UBC Press. pp. 77-85.

McLeod, N. (2007). Cree Narrative Memory: From Treaties to Contemporary Times. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Limited.

Momaday, N.S. (1997).  “A First American Views His Land”, in N.S. Momaday, the Man Made of Words.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, pp. 30-41.

Smith, L. T. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. New York: Zed Books Ltd.

Wilson, A. C. (2004). Reclaiming our Humanity: Decolonization and the Recovery of Indigenous Knowlegde. In D. A. Mihesuah, & A. C. Wilson, Indigenizing the Academy: Transforming Scholarship and Empowering Communities (pp. 69-85). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Foundational documents

Final Report on Truth and Reconciliation (2015)

Royal Commission Report on Aboriginal peoples (1996) 

Recommended Websites


UCalgary would like to thank the following individuals for their cultural expertise and insight provided for the development of the cultural protocol guidelines:

  • Dr. Reg Crowshoe, Elder, Piikuni First Nation, Former Chief of Piikuni First Nations, Member of the University of Calgary Senate, UCalgary Indigenous Strategy Steering Committee
  • Roy Weasel Fat, Cultural Advisor, Kainai First Nation, President of Red Crow Community College, Member of the UCalgary Indigenous Strategy Steering Committee