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Cultural Protocols: Image

Cultural Protocols

Protocols are codes of conduct and behavior that aligns with traditional values, beliefs, and worldview of sqilxʷ (Indigenous) people.  Understanding protocols help create a clear path towards respectful working relationships with sqilxʷ communities.  The purpose of the document is to help everyone interact in a respectful way with sqilxʷ people of this land.  That being said, every community is unique and may vary on how protocols are carried out.      


Protocols have been unwritten and often times unspoken but generally understood among sqilxʷ people.  Contemporarily, many people entering into language and cultural revitalization spaces are coming in as second language learners or non Native allies.  This means that many of us come from an English perspective and we can unintentionally place English values and worldviews into our language and culture.  This has created a need to articulate protocols to ensure sqilxʷ values, beliefs, and worldviews are being followed in the work we do.    


Languages are cultural extensions and reflect the worldview of a culture and shape perception of reality.  Linguist Edward Sapir says it well that, "The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached."  This means that it is important when working in language revitalization spaces to always be mindful not to just translate English, and that consulting with First Language Speakers and cultural Knowledge Keepers as often as possible is vital to keeping cultural integrity intact.




An Elder is a special title that not everyone will earn simply through age. An Elder is a person who is wise, understands the teachings of k̓ʷul̓ncútn (Creator), lives in alignment with cultural values, mentors and shares knowledge lovingly with the younger generations.  Special significance is given to our Elders who are also First Language Speakers.  Elders are essential and vital to culture work.  It is important when working in culture that Elders are consulted and their voices are lifted in the work and placed at the forefront of the work.  The Eldest in the room is understood to be the matriarch or patriarch and are given special recognition.  Each community gives recognition in their own way.


At community events, Elders are given their own table and food is brought to them and spread out as “family style” eating.  This allows them to prepare their plates to their liking or health needs while remaining seated.  If this is not possible, then Elders eat first and may have someone make a plate for them.  It is important to not walk directly in front of or behind the backs of Elders.  If you have to and it was your only way around you can excuse yourself and let them know that is what you are going to do. húmaʔ nƛ̓mikntsn (excuse me I am passing behind you).  


We make sure when engaging Elders that we make them comfortable, pay for their travel if travel is needed, and gift them with honorarium or other gifts for their time.  If Elders do not come with a person who can help them, we make sure we have folks who can attend to their needs.  


Self Determination


sqilxʷ people have the right to self determination over culture and language.  It is important that any decisions in language and culture come from members of that specific culture; in particular the collective voice of Elders.    


Communication and Consent


Cultural integrity is the practice of respecting and honoring the collective ownership of materials, traditions, and knowledges that originate from a particular culture or community. Individuals or groups that develop culture and language materials without the guidance, approval or consent of established community First Language Speakers, Elders, and Knowledge Keepers may unknowingly and unintentionally change the culture/language into a European/Western construct. Informed consent is necessary when creating, distributing, or recreating any sqilxʷ language and cultural programs, and curricula.  Who has the authority to give consent?  sqilxʷ people are an Indigenous collective culture.  Collectivist cultures are characterized by prioritizing group solidarity over individual goals.  It sees long-term relationships as important since it fosters the community’s objectives. Generally, other members of the group should first be consulted when making major decisions. The ideal protocols to follow would be to speak to a group of Elders together, or approach multiple Elders one on one, or initiate discussion with an organization that represents Elders or Knowledge Keepers.      

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