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Tobacco is considered one of the most sacred plants that Aboriginal people use. In its natural state, it is a medicine but it also serves as a contract. When you present tobacco for a service, it is like a contract that will bind the request and the follow through to an answer, for both the people involved as well as those they represent.

Tobacco is like a knock on a door. If you do not present tobacco in your request, your ‘knock' will not be taken seriously and may not even be heard. There are rare instances where offered tobacco, is declined simply because the elder or resource person is already committed elsewhere, or they truly cannot help you. Either way, they will tell you. There is tobacco involved in most of the protocol involved in carrying out an event such as a feast or Round Dance.

Presenting tobacco is a very important protocol and can carry you a long way in getting the type of service you require in your programming efforts. It is best to consult with an Aboriginal ‘helper' to get the correct information you need to begin any cultural process. Remember to offer the helper tobacco.

What is a Feast?

The preparation of food for a feast always goes back to intent. Why a person/family/organization is hosting or ‘putting one on' is the main navigator for how it will all take place. There are feasts for many different situations such as partnerships, accomplishments, giving thanks, initiation and/or conclusion of programming, changing of seasons, honoring loved ones, honoring ceremonial items, and memorials, which is the honoring of those who have left this world.

Once you commit to this undertaking, there is protocol to follow. First and foremost, tobacco is given to the people who will help. The main people who help at a feast are the Pipe Carriers, and their helpers. We hold a special place for them because we know that what they do must be correct and repetitive. At a Cree Feast it is customary for men who are chosen by the head server, to serve the food to the women and children. At a Dakota/Nakota/Lakota Feast, the hosts are also the servers.

Our Elders train each helper, and he/she must do the same things over and over until they are 'promoted' to another level. This process can take years and it is to ensure a person is on the right track, and that no one rushes ahead of the Pipe. This process is applied to all of our ceremonies. Other significant people at a feast would be the person who announces what is taking place, the singers, the servers and the cooks.

There are different ways to carry out a feast and this would mainly depend on what Nation you are from. The Saulteaux, Dakota, and the Cree in this region have differing ways of carrying out this ceremony according to their customs. Learn from those Nations who follow a traditional lifestyle. Although each Nation is different, there are some universal things that are recognized by all.

  • There will be smudge burning. This raises the issue of the 'No Smoking' policy. If you wish to host a feast, this issue must be examined and the natural flow of this ceremony will be deeply affected by the exclusion of the smudge and the Pipe.
  • Do not expect all ceremonial prayers to be translated into English. Trust that only good words are spoken on behalf of you and the sponsors. Please understand that all Nations explain what they are doing. You probably didn't know that if you do not speak or understand the language.
  • LADIES.....please note that you must refrain from attending if you are on your cycle. This also means no cooking for the feast. Instead, take some time out for yourself, go elsewhere, relax, and let others do the work! For those ladies who can attend, please understand you must wear a skirt to ALL traditional gatherings. There are many teachings behind this and you may be turned away from a gathering for not following this protocol.
  • Leave your pets at home or away from the actual feast site.
  • When in doubt...... Ask a person in attendance that may know such as the one who invited you, or an elder in the crowd!
  • Observe where you should sit, (some Nations require men on one side and women on the other, other Nations have families including both genders, sit together). Again, there are teachings behind this.
  • Just in case...... Ask!
  • Bring containers and dishes to eat from as well as salt, pepper, etc.
  • Ask about the left over food that people could not finish. The elder may ask that it all be gathered and taken ‘out.' If instructed not to, Do Not throw any food away that cannot be taken home or eaten. There may be someone coming by to pick it up, even the apple cores. Trust that there is a good reason for this.

Now you may be wondering what food to prepare for this feast. If you don't know what to cook, ask someone who has cooked for one before about what you should prepare. An Elder would be a good teacher as well, remember to have tobacco for this and write down the instructions. If you ask other women to help you, follow the usual protocol in asking for help. Traditional feast foods are simple and healthy. Make sure you have soup, it can be wild meat or domestic but wild is preferred. You will need to have bannock, tea, and berries as well. Once you have enough of those 4 main items, then go ahead and get other food items.

Visit the people around you, including those you came with even if you see them everyday. The children you bring can be, well, know how kids are. It's good to bring them as long as they know they must be relatively still during the prayers and serving of food. This is where good parenting, role modeling, and positive discipline come in. Patience is one of the main lessons EVERYONE can benefit from.

Remember, no one is perfect, nothing is perfect, if you do not know something, ask, or better and listen.