Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Cultural Advisors

Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Cultural Advisors play a central role in Indigenous communities; they are teachers within and beyond their communities.

Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Cultural Advisors are not self-taught individuals. They have been gifted with their respective teachings by other Elders or Knowledge Keepers, typically over years of mentorship and teaching.

These teachings are held as sacred knowledge and vary from each respective knowledge source. Ideally, permission has been given for individuals to share what their learned and acquired knowledge permits. Once the Keepers are felt to have learned and understood the knowledge and have made it a part of their own lives, it is accepted that they can now deliver these learnings and teachings to others.


The term "Elder" is bestowed to an individual, by their community because of the spiritual and cultural knowledge that they hold. The term does not refer to one’s age, but rather the level of cultural and traditional knowledge they hold.

Meet the Elders of Queen's

Knowledge Keeper:

The term "Knowledge Keeper" or "Traditional Knowledge Keeper"refers to someone who has been taught by an Elder or a senior Knowledge Keeper within their community. This person holds traditional knowledge and teachings, they have been taught how to care for these teachings and when it is and is not appropriate to share this knowledge with others.

Cultural Advisor:

A "Cultural Advisor" is another form of a teacher. They hold cultural knowledge that has been shared with them by more experienced teachers (Elders or Knowledge Keepers).

What are teachings?

Teachings can vary from Nation to Nation as well as from one keeper to the next (depending on teachings, teacher, and location).

Teachings can be understood as the base for understanding values, traditions and ways of living.

Types of teachings and topics can include but are not limited to:

  • Wellness teachings
  • Knowledge of traditional plants and medicines
  • Value systems
  • Languages
  • Indigenous arts, crafts and songs
  • Ceremonial knowledge and protocols
  • Clan teachings
  • Creation/Origin stories
  • Governance structures

Indigenous Cultural Services at Queen's

Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and Cultural Advisors at Queen's play a central role in increasing awareness around Indigenous knowledge, histories, languages, and ways of knowing in our campus community. They can provide informal and formal teachings to raise awareness of Indigenous histories, world views and to help both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, staff and faculty increase their own cultural competencies and awareness. They can also complement course content by providing cultural context and Indigenous knowledge.

Other examples of requests that can be made to the Elders and Cultural Advisors at Queen's: 

  • one-on-one meetings (for students, staff or faculty)
  • opening address or prayer
  • presentations (speaking requests, workshop facilitation, etc.)
  • invitation to attend an event as a guest
  • participation in a lecture, class or seminar
  • participation in convocation
  • facilitation or participation in a traditional ceremony
  • input, advice or guidance on course curriculum
  • input, advice or guidance to committees
  • Smudging ceremony

When requesting Indigenous cultural services at Queen’s, it is important to understand who is designated as a reputable Elder, Knowledge Keeper or Cultural Advisor and how to respectfully request their time.

We must be respectful of the fact that it is up to each individual to share the knowledge and teachings that they feel comfortable sharing.

Learn more about the Elders at Queen's University


Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe culture

Kingston sits on the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe and as such Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Cultural Advisors from these two distinct cultural groups are often those invited to provide Indigenous cultural services at Queen’s.

The Haudenosaunee consist of individuals from one of the following 6 nations:

  • Mohawk
  • Seneca
  • Oneida
  • Onondaga
  • Cayuga
  • Tuscarora

The Anishnaabe consist of individuals from one of the following 8 nations:

  • Odawa
  • Ojibwe
  • Potawatomi
  • Mississauga
  • Nipissing
  • Oji-Cree
  • Algonquin
  • Saulteaux

Other cultures and lived experiences

We also recognize the knowledge that Métis and Inuit Knowledge Keepers can provide.

Knowledge, lived experience (along with traditional teachings), and life skills are common gifts of many Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Cultural Advisors.

Specific teachings may vary depending on one’s teachings, location and Nation, but many commonalities exist across these teachings.