First Nation Protocol Thanking the Host First Nation Why You Should

September 24, 2013

Bob Joseph

In this post we share some insight on First Nation Protocol including the why you should thank the host first nation, and on the side provide an example of First Nation protocol in practice, and lastly we have some tips at the end to get you started.

A BC based colleague recently had this interesting experience. He was asked to make a presentation to a large group of business people, government representatives, and First Nations, at one of the largest convention centres in Calgary. He prepared his presentation, checked it many times, and felt he was ready. But, at the last minute he realized he did not know the name of the Nation on whose land the centre stood as he always, as is respectful and good protocol, thanks the host Nation.This is fairly common practice at events in BC.

So, my friend called the manager of the facility and asked her. She had no idea and had never, ever been asked that question but realized that this is something she should probably know so did her research and was able to tell my colleague in time for him to thank the host nation before he began his presentation. He was thankful to have averted a potentially disrespectful situation as he was speaking on the topic of Aboriginal engagement and the audience included many First Nation delegates.

When I hosted an Aboriginal Consultation and Engagement Speaker Series in a hotel in downtown Edmonton one year I also needed this vital piece of information. I called the hotel and they too had never had this request. I then called the Alberta Native Friendship Centres Association and thankfully they easily answered my question. So, before our Keynote Speaker, Dennis Bell, delivered his presentation, I said a few respectful words of thanks to the Cree People from Treaty 6.

Why is it good protocol to thank the host nation? Because you are acknowledging that that Nation has had a relationship since time immemorial with the land you are standing on. It is a sign of respect and recognition, and you can’t go wrong with respect and recognition.

Never heard of this protocol? Think back to the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics in BC. The chiefs, resplendent in their traditional regalia, of the four host nations on whose territory the Olympic venues were built, were each thanked individually, and were given the same degree of respect as the Prime Minister and other dignitaries. This formal recognition of the four host nations was on the world stage.

For larger conferences, it is good protocol to invite an Elder to provide a prayer or blessing. Again, in order to find an Elder who provides prayers or blessings, call the Friendship Centre nearest to the location of your event and ask them. Be sure to ask what is the expected honorarium for the blessing. At an event I hosted in Vancouver I invited my father, Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, to provide the Opening Prayer.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when you next are making a presentation at a meeting or hosting a conference:

Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples® tips:

  • Include a formal thank you to the host nation whenever making a presentation or holding a meeting, whether or not First Nation individuals are part of the meeting;
  • If you don’t know the name of the First Nation on whose territory or treaty land the building sits, ask around; Friendship Centres are always a good source of this sort of information;
  • Ask the Friendship Centre for help with the pronunciation and if that’s not possible, call the band office after hours and listen to the recording;
  • Practise saying the name of the host nation out loud;
  • As the blessing or prayer could involve a smudging ceremony be sure to advise the facility management in advance;
  • If you have invited an Elder to provide a blessing, arrange to have someone meet him/her at the front door of the facility and escort them to the meeting. Here's an article on Elder protocol.

If you are hosting an event with Indigenous speakers, here are some suggestions on appropriate gifts: What are appropriate gifts for Indigenous guest speakers?

We cover First Nation protocol in our Indigenous Awareness courses - if you are interested in learning more, contact us for information.

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