Indigenous protocols

Indigenous protocols are traditions that Indigenous people follow. Protocols act as customary guidelines to retain history and pass down the knowledge from generation to generation. Coming to understand and practice protocols appropriately is a lifelong learning process even for Indigenous people growing up within their culture.

Following protocols is a significant sign of respect and awareness. It shows that you are taking the time to learn about Indigenous cultures and are challenging the often-unconscious bias that everyone should interact in the way that mainstream settler culture dictates.

Protocols differ vastly from one Indigenous culture or community to another, and there can be protocols for many things. For instance, it is protocol to acknowledge the traditional land you are on when at a meeting or event. In BC, recognition of that land is often unceded because BC is the only one in Canada in which 95 per cent of its land (nearly 900,00 km2) is unceded, or non-surrendered Indigenous territory.

 As part of the unveiling ceremony for the Reconciliation Pole and Welcome Figure, the following protocols will be followed.

Witnessing Ceremony

Chanupa Ceremony


Witnessing Ceremony

In keeping with Coast Salish protocol, a witnessing ceremony will take place on June 21.  When an event of historical significance occurs, witnesses are called as keepers of history. Coast Salish people continue to practice these protocols to align with their tradition of passing on of history, orally, but as well to recognize the importance of conducting business, and building and maintaining relationships, face to face. 

Musqueam Elder Larry Grant recounts, “When we do important work in our longhouses – such as naming our children, honouring the coming-of-age for our youth, conducting marriages, or confirming important relations between First Nations – we require individuals to act as witnesses to our work.  It is through witnessing that our work is validated and provided legitimacy.  The work could not take place without honoured and respected guests to witness it – they are asked to store and care for the history they witness, and most importantly, to share it with their own people when they return home. Although, we do call specific witnesses who are knowledge holders, we will have to remember that everyone watching this ceremony is also a witness and has the same responsibility." 

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Chanupa Ceremony 

Chanupa ceremony is a sacred pipe ceremony for connecting physical and spiritual worlds. Chanupa means pipe where scared medicine in Indigenous culture is smoked. The pipe serves as many things for many nations, including a way to pray and bless, to open and close spaces, rites and initiation points, to discuss terms of peace or war. It is a tool to mediate between the worlds, between ideas and people.

The pipe represents our prayers in physical form. Smoke becomes our words as it goes out, touches everything and becomes a part of all there is. This ceremony is one of the closest ways’ humans will speak and listen to the Creator and all the helpers.

The fire in the pipe is the same fire in the sun, which is the source of life. The reason why tobacco is used to connect the worlds is that the plant's roots go deep into the earth, and its smoke rises high into the the next world.

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Sharing and generosity is an integral part of Indigenous cultures. As part of Indigenous protocols, small gifts and keepsake, are often given to guests. Guests in attendance of the unveiling ceremony will be gifted with a tobacco bundle and keychain paddle.  The keepsake items are significant to diverse Indigenous cultures and represent teachings from both Coast Salish and East Coast peoples.

 Tobacco Bundle

Leading up to the creation and completion of the poles, there were several ceremonies which included giving tobacco. The intention in gifting those in attendance with tobacco bundles is to continue this ceremonial tradition.

Natural tobacco is an Indigenous sacred plant and has a very long history with the Indigenous cultures. Considered to be a sacred medicine, it is used in ceremony. Traditional tobacco does not have the impurities and chemicals that commercial tobacco has and can be used in a traditional pipe and the smoke is generally not inhaled.

A small amount of tobacco is folded into a piece of coloured cloth, creating a pouch that is tied together with purple string.  For many eastern and southern Indigenous peoples, the colours have symbolic meaning: black - physical, white - intellectual, yellow - emotional, red- spiritual, green -mother earth, blue- father sky, orange- children and purple-unity. 

Traditional tobacco is used to promote spiritual, physical, emotional and community well-being. It is a sign of respect and reciprocity and is passed when asking for guidance, protection, gratitude or help.


Our lives are ever changing, ever moving, always flowing. The paddle helps navigate the rise and fall of life’s changing tides, through the seasons and into the years. The paddle represents moving forward together as we continue to learn about Truth and Reconciliation.

The paddles are engraved with nə́c̓aʔmat ct – ‘we are one’ to remind those who attended the ceremony that all nations, cultures, nationalities are part of the human race, and we all need to be part of the reconciliation journey. We are all responsible for paddling forward.

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