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Learning from Indigenous Elders the Elders Teaching Series

By Kimberly Taylor, October 11 2023—

The University of Calgary introduced The Elders Teaching Series offered through the Office of Indigenous Engagement. The series is comprised of three live webinars with three different Elders available for anyone who wants to learn more about Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The Elders Teaching Series is open to the public as well as to U of C students, staff and faculty.

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Allyson Dennehey, cultural protocols coordinator, explained that the Series aims to provide a safe learning space and an opportunity for people to hear from Elders directly and in a good way.

“Indigenous knowledge is for everybody, not just Indigenous people. Everybody can learn something from what they have to share. Indigenous knowledge has sustained us, has helped us survive since time immemorial and has helped us thrive to this day,” said Dennehey. “Elders are really great for teaching how to do things in a good way.”

The Elders Teaching Series began in 2017 as part of the wider University’s Indigenous strategy. This strategy was gifted its Blackfoot name ii’taa’poh’to’p, by Kainai Elder Andy Black Water. Translated, the word means ‘a place to rejuvenate and re-energize during a journey.’ The strategy guides the University community in recognizing that we have two very different cultures and that we want to walk together in a good way.

“There’s been a history in this country of trying to assimilate Indigenous people into the Western perspective. That’s not who we are,” said Dennehey. 

 “So if we educate and hear directly from the Elders about our way of life hopefully we would start to understand that more. We don’t want to be assimilated, we want to be our authentic selves and we need more allies to understand and respect that. 

“There’s a lot to gain from learning from the Elders. It’s only an hour and a half, it’s a small little introduction but hopefully, it’s enough to spark their curiosity to learn more,” she continued. “I find that with Indigenous ways of knowing and our cultures, I find that we’re very open and accepting. It’s for everybody.”

Some of the webinars in the past have been recorded, and some will be recorded going forward. However, each Elder is different, and there is also a live question and answer session in each webinar moderated by Dennehey so people are encouraged to attend live. The choice to do the webinars online accommodates the needs of the wider community, and for those who may feel interested, but also intimidated.

“Elders are our libraries, they pass on so much knowledge so we really have to take good care of them and treat them really well so they can continue sharing with us. The Elders Teaching Series will share our worldview and cultural protocol, it’s not just offering tobacco, but it’s taking care of our Elders and knowing more about our worldview and how we do things. I hope it bridges that gap of how we do things, how we share, so it builds competency in how to engage with our community.” Said Dennehey.

The goal of the series is to build knowledge and awareness so that those who attend can understand and respect Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The theme for this year is sharing stories about the Indigenous way of life.

“Hear our stories from us,” Dennehy said. “Learning from our Elders and hearing their stories, not from someone who didn’t live it, they live our culture every day, it’s a direct source to learn from them. I hope learning from them and then understanding our culture more they could put tangible things together for their reconciliation journey. We have to learn first and acknowledge our history.”

The first webinar will be on Oct. 19 from noon until 1:30 p.m. and will be an opportunity to listen to Elder Rod Scout. For more information on the Elders Teaching Series and how to register, visit the U of C website.

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