About NOSM Education Research Communities

Indigenous Elders

Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) Elders are Indigenous persons who have certain gifts for working with community members. Each of these gifts, separately or together, is related to maintaining the holistic health of a community, and each of these gifts could be utilized in a ‘healing’ effort by Elders. At the same time, all Elders share qualities or characteristics which are recognized by the community as qualities or characteristics which the community may reference when bestowing Elder status on an individual.

In Indigenous culture, Elders are the essential link to the past and to the future. Elders provide continuity and complete the ‘circle of life’ so that individuals, family and extended family and community view themselves, and subsequently behave, as a confident and complete whole. Their knowledgeable, wise, patient, understanding, and accepting approach is an essential part of any healthy group dynamic. Indigenous Elders and others have identified additional reasons for their involvement with NOSM. Elders provide a deep and solid foundation of knowledge and experience on which to ‘grow a family’. Additionally, they provide a clear and easily seen connection through the generations, as they have lived almost a full cycle themselves.

For NOSM Indigenous students, the presence and work of Elders can be a key factor which contributes to student success. Elders help students balance the two worlds which they may see themselves living within – that of home and that of the School. Elders may assist Indigenous students in understanding their ancestry and maintaining a positive identity and self-image by gaining greater knowledge and appreciation of their roots.

For all students, Elders can provide a safe and willing sounding board, as well as a caring, objective, accepting and non-judgmental confidante during difficult times, whether those difficulties are academic, social or otherwise. Elders provide advice and guidance in such a way that the recipient is sufficiently empowered and confident to make their own conclusions and subsequent decisions about an issue, thereby taking ownership and increasing probability of success.

For staff and faculty, Elders provide an open-minded and accepting approach in their observation, reflection and advice. Informal and formal teachings are provided to raise awareness of Indigenous history and worldview and to help both Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and faculty increase their own cultural competency.

Elders are essential consultants around new developments at the School, whether it is a student recruitment effort or a research project to be conducted in an Indigenous community. Involving Elders early on in project conception and design is one of the best ways the School can ensure Indigenous concerns and sensitivities are incorporated in School activities at the outset.

Elders do not provide advice and guidance randomly, or without being requested to do so. However, when asked, it is important that their input be well-heard, acknowledged and followed through on in some manner. This is part of the reciprocal nature of an Elder’s work. If they see that their role has helped to achieve positive results, they are inspired to continue in that role and improve their contribution through regular and on-going learning and professional development on their own part.

Elders also speak of the Seven Prophecies of the Anishinawbe. The first six Prophecies accurately describe the events which have led to the Indigenous people will help non-Indigenous understand the ways of Mother Earth so there is harmony in Creation. Elders recognize their roles and responsibility in seeing that Prophecy fulfilled. When Elders discuss their role in NOSM, there are regular references and comparisons made with the role of Elders in a traditional family or extended family setting. Elders very much see their contemporary role in institutions as being very similar on a functional level.

How the Medical School Engages and Works With Indigenous Elders

Participation in Senior Leadership Group 
Elders at both Campuses alternate attendance at the regular monthly Senior Leadership Group (SLG) meetings held at the School. The attending Elder is considered a regular participant in the senior management meetings, though without formal decision-making authority. As Elders do, they provide appropriate teachings, reflection and advice on relevant SLG topics.

Participation in Indigenous Reference Group
Similar to their role in the SLG, Elders also participate in the quarterly meetings of the Indigenous Reference Group (ARG). This Indigenous advisory group is mandated “to provide advice to Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s initiatives… in the promotion of excellence in higher learning and accommodation of the Indigenous world view”. The ARG consists of members of approximately nine different groups, including the three main provincial territorial organizations (Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Treaty #3, and the Union of Ontario Indians) as well as the Ontario Federation of Indian Friendship Centres, the Independent First Nations and the Métis Nation of Indigenous population in the development and operation of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

Formal Student Support Services
Elders spend approximately one week per month on-site at each campus to provide student counseling and advisory services to Indigneous and non-Indigenous students alike.

Indigenous Teachings
During their one week each month on Campus, Elders provide Indigenous cultural teachings to students, faculty and staff on an informal basis.

Traditional Sweat Lodges   During one evening of the monthly Elders week, Elders conduct traditional Sweat Lodge ceremonies for interested students, faculty and staff on each campus. Indigenous Teachings are sometimes the focus of these ceremonies, while the cleansing and healing attributes of the Sweat Lodge are a primary reason for people to attend and participate in any of the ceremonies.

Indigenous Admissions Sub-Committee
The Indigenous Admissions Sub-Committee reviews all Indigenous admissions stream applications, makes recommendations to the Admissions Committee, and assists with the Indigenous recruitment process. In addition to Elder participation, this Committee is comprised of an Indigenous Faculty Member (Chair), the Assistant Dean of Admissions, the NOSM Director of Indigenous Affairs, an Indigenous physician, Indigenous residents, a representative of an Indigenous Educational Organization, an Indigenous community Member, and Indigenous NOSM medical students.

Admissions Interviews
Elders and other volunteers are an integral part of the NOSM admissions process. Elder participation allows for a more balanced interview process, as well as providing Elders with a more complete and thorough understanding of the School.

Curriculum Development and Review of Content
Indigenous staff and faculty are involved with the committee which approves all Indigenous curriculum content. NOSM’s Strategic Plan calls for the development of a mechanism to integrate Indigenous involvement in NOSM, including the participation of Indigenous Elders, students, faculty members, and staff in all relevant NOSM academic programs. Formal means for further integration of Elders’ wisdom and insight into curriculum content development and review, is to be determined in the future.

Guest SpeakersElders are intermittently asked to speak at NOSM meetings, community consultations, or at community events hosted by the School.

Team Building and Conflict Resolution
Elders have conducted separate Sharing Circles for NOSM staff, faculty, and students in the past. Staff and faculty Sharing Circles were introduced as a culturally- and organizationally-appropriate means to resolve institutional issues in a respectful and sensitive manner. Student Sharing Circles were introduced as a safe and supportive forum for the sharing of student concerns and anxieties about any issues which may be important to students. Sharing Circles have proven to be productive and beneficial means with which to work on team building and conflict resolution.

Informal Support and Guidance to Senior LeadershipMembers of the School’s senior leadership regularly consult with one or more of the School’s Elders. Cultural teachings have been sought and shared, and reflection and advice is requested and provided in an effort to ensure cultural appropriateness, sensitivity and relevance with regards to Indigenous topics or issues.

Traditional Teachings and Life Skills

Knowledge, life-long experience with traditional teachings, and life skills are common gifts of many Elders. Specific teachings may vary slightly from Indigenous community to Indigenous community, but many commonalities exist across Northern Ontario. Examples of these teachings and skills include:

  • The Creation Story and its demonstration of how people are to live together in Creation;
  • A traditional Indigenous worldview and other perspectives;
  • A clan system and its function in traditional and contemporary society;
  • Indigenous languages, their effect on culture, and what the language says about cultural and social norms;
  • Sewing and leatherwork;
  • Food harvesting, preservation and preparation;
  • Traditional survival skills for living on the land;
  • Seasonal cycles and the changing of the seasons;
  • Story telling;
  • Humility and its role in on-going health and healing;
  • Holistic health; and,
  • General knowledge of traditional medicines.

To Apply for the Services of an Elder

NOSM students, faculty and staff are encouraged to use the following procedure to request and secure the services of an Elder.

  1. Make final decision on intended purpose of the Elder role, and discuss this with the Program Coordinator of the Indigenous Affairs Unit.
  2. Retrieve a Request For Elder Services Form from the Indigenous Affairs Unit or from the School’s intranet, MyNOSM.
  3. Complete the relevant sections of the form. If you do not have a particular Elder in mind, indicate this on the form and ensure that your intended purpose and event location are well-defined.
  4. Complete other relevant form sections.
  5. Submit the form to the Program Coordinator of the Indigenous Affairs Unit.

Once the Request For Elder Services Form is submitted to the Indigenous Affairs Unit, the Program Coordinator will review your request form to ensure all sections are complete. Forms will then be presented to the Indigenous Affairs Unit Cultural Working Group for their review and recommendation of a suitable Elder which meets the purpose(s) of the request. 

For more information on requesting Elder Services, please contact the Indigenous Affairs Unit and review the Elder’s Handbook, available here


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