19 Protocol

This information was briefly mentioned in Chapter two. To emphasize the importance of following these Protocols, this section will further expand upon below.

When researchers write about work done with Indigenous communities, they should explicitly state any Indigenous Protocols they followed.

Research done in a good way often includes one or more of the following:

  1. Consulting with community and Elders
  2. Offering gifts of reciprocity
  3. Following Indigenous Protocols
  4. Changing perspectives



A great example of Protocols that may be included in research are evident in Anishinaabe (Ojibwe-Potawatomi) researcher Jennifer Wemigwans’ book A Digital Bundle: Protecting and promoting Indigenous cultural knowledge online. 

“The first person whom I went to see for the production of FourDirectionsTeachings.com was late Ojibwe Elder Lillian Pitawanakwat in 2005 on Manitoulin Island, Ontario. I gave her a traditional offering of tobacco and asked her if she would share a teaching for the website project. Lillian consulted her pipe because she had been asked to do this kind of thing many times before and had refused. But this time she said, her pipe told her that this project would be done properly and that she could trust it. She therefore agreed to share a medicine wheel teaching with us. But Lillian did more than that. She spend three days with the content producer and me teaching, praying, and talking us through a Sweat Lodge ceremony. I did not request this. Lillian said that the ceremony, song, and prayer were being done so that the project could be undertaken in a good way and that we would have the help and guidance needed from the Creator… The project received its first teaching after we spent several days meditating on Dreamer’s Rock, receiving teachings, and preparing for and undertaking Sweat Lodge, giveaway, and feasting ceremonies.

Several weeks later in 2005, I was in Blackfoot country meeting with Dr. Reg Crowshoe, a Piikani Blackfoot Elder and Traditional Teacher. After I presented him with tobacco, he asked me, “Under what cultural authority are you presenting the project?”… He articulated Blackfoot processes as a way of demonstrating how cultural and political authority are traditionally recognized and legitimated in Blackfoot societies. He referred to these processes by the acronym VALS, which stands for venue, action, language, and song.

According to Crowshoe, these processes are present in all legitimate Blackfoot cultural transactions, and they are at the foundation of Blackfoot cultural authority. He also stated that these processes are not limited to Blackfoot culture but shared across Indigenous communities and only need to be drawn out and demonstrated…

I explained that the project had been initiated with a Sweat Lodge ceremony, that we had held a feast and prayed in Anishinaabemowin and that Lillian had brought out her drum and sung and conducted a Pipe Ceremony. I explained that all of this had been done on sacred ground, at the base of Dreamer’s Rock. Crowshoe smiled and said the process had been a good one and that Lillian had known what needed to be done.”

(Wemigwans, 2018, p. 16 – 18)

Depending on the depth of research and the depth of cultural content you may look for VALS – Venue, Action, Language, and Song – as protocols to be drawn on. VALS may not be required in all circumstances. Because Wemigwans was conducting Elder Oral History VALS were an important Protocol practiced (Wemigwans, 2018).

As noted in section 10: For research that is less cultural in nature, researchers may not explicitly state which Protocols they are following; however, they should always discuss how they approached their work in a good way by either consulting with community, consulting with Elders, or offering gifts of reciprocity. Reciprocity may take may forms. One of the most widely known Indigenous forms of reciprocity is the giving of tobacco to knowledge holders (Wemigwans, 2018). Other forms of reciprocity may include the giving of gifts, such as home made jams, bead work, or harvest items to research participants. Initiating a discussion to determine the prefered form of reciprocity is part of relationship building. Reciprocity may also include financial compensation, but typically financial compensation is seen more as a transaction. Transactions are one-time events; where as reciprocal exchange through gift giving evokes a relationship between the giver and the receiver. Financial compensation is common when non-Indigenous parties request time and expertise from Indigenous community members. Even when financial compensation is offered, it is ideal to present this along with a gift of reciprocity. 


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Indigenous Information Literacy Copyright © 2022 by Rachel Chong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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