Hosting a Family Night: Engaging First Nation, Métis and Inuit Families

Tansi (Cree), abawashded (Stoney), oki napi (Blackfoot), eglenadeh (Chipewyan), dahneh dha’ (Dene), tunngasugit (Inuktitut), tanshi (Michif), kwÉ (Mi’kmaq) and aanii/boozhoo (Anishinabek).


It Starts with Relationships ~mîyowîcehtowin~ (relationships)

At Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium, we believe that reconciliation and healing can be achieved by fostering respectful, supportive and welcoming learning environments. Parents, guardians and families are their child’s first teacher and play an important role in nurturing and encouraging their first language, culture and education. Therefore, parent, guardian and family involvement is one of the most important factors to student success.

About Family Nights

A Family Night is a time to engage with families of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students who attend schools in Alberta in a respectful, cultural and welcoming way.

“When it comes to culture . . . you’re never going to be right, but you’re never going to be wrong.  You’re never going to be right if you are not open to other perspectives and you’re never going to be wrong if you act with an open heart”
Stoney Elder, Alberta

Why a First Nations, Métis and Inuit Night?

Family Nights help the school community by:

  • Welcoming all families
  • Providing a great opportunity to share in the learning journey
  • Getting to know the programs and resources that support students
  • Meeting school staff
  • Reinforcing the importance of education by attending school events
  • Strengthening the school community by volunteering/mentoring and sharing knowledge, language and culture
  • Fostering relationships
  • Sharing First Nations, Métis, and Inuit culture and traditions
  • Maintaining on-going communication

What does a culturally safe school feel, look, act like for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and their families?

“This is truly a safe environment where they can have fun with their family; learn something about the Aboriginal culture but more importantly just to come together as a community… It’s about honouring and learning even as an educator and not being afraid of making a mistake, everyone is on a road to learning and we can all learn about the Aboriginal culture and it can make a difference in our schools and for our families through that learning.”
Maureen Winter, Principal, Mayfield Elementary School, June, 2015

“I think all schools should just go for it; it might start off small, it might start off big. Who knows take it in their own direction but to be able to do a cultural event like this… it’s amazing!”
Kim Varro, In-home assistant, Mayfield School, June 2015

Planning a Family Night

Here are the basic steps to consider when planning a Family Night:

  1. Decide on a date and time (e.g. 5:30 – 7:30 pm).
  2. Decide on name for the event (could be named in consultation with students, staff, etc…).
  3. Connect and/or Collaborate with outside agencies (where possible): Community leagues, city or town offices, relevant non-profit organizations, friendship centres, First Nations, Métis and Inuit education units within school districts, public libraries, local businesses, etc… Invite them to have a display and/or presentations for students and families.
  4. Encourage attendance through door prizes (e.g., culturally responsive books).
  5. Send out invites to First Nations, Métis and Inuit families via phone call, social media, newsletter, bulletin board, mail, etc… A positive phone call to invited families encourages strong attendance.
  6. Invite an Elder/Knowledge Keeper to participate (see below).
  7. Decide on the menu for the event. Common foods at these nights include stew, bannock, tea, water, berries, coffee, etc… Ask an an elder to offer the blessing of the food. Be sure to bring ziploc bags to offer leftovers to the attendees – nothing should be disposed of. Here are some guidelines for calculating the amount of food to prepare for the number of people attending the event.
  8. Decide on the cultural activities that will take place (e.g., storytelling, dancers, etc…). Encourage students or community members to perform, share stories, etc… Include an interactive activity as well (e.g., crafts, outside activities, teachings, games, etc…). Seasonal activities are encouraged such as storytelling in the winter or traditional games in the summer.
  9. Gather volunteers (involve students) to serve food, support activities, etc…

Hoop Dancer

How do I invite an Elder or Knowledge Keeper?

Inviting Elders or Knowledge Keepers into classrooms, meetings and celebrations is an excellent way to include the First Nations, Métis and Inuit community into the school environment, and to engage First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. If you are having difficulty identifying an Elder or Knowledge Keeper to invite, the following post-secondary institutes and community partners may be able to provide support: Canadian Native Friendship CentreEdmonton Aboriginal Senior Centre, Yellowhead Tribal College, NAITUniversity of AlbertaMacEwan University,  Norquest CollegeAboriginal Relations, and Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations. Reaching out to First Nations, Métis and Inuit families within your school community may also be a resource for connecting with Elders.

When inviting an Elder/Knowledge Keeper here are some questions for consideration:

  • Why do you want an Elder/Knowledge Keeper in your school/classroom?
  • What type of information will the Elder/Knowledge Keeper be sharing?
  • Who will the Elder/Knowledge Keeper be working with?
  • When do you hope to have the Elder/Knowledge Keeper come visit? How long will the visit be?
  • What are your expectations of the Elder/Knowledge Keeper and the visit?

Arrange a time and place to meet with and Elder/Knowledge Keeper to talk about your request. When approaching an Elder/Knowledge Keeper with a request, it is customary to present a small offering such as tobacco (e.g. Mother Earth Tobacco). Any uncertainties or questions can be presented to the Elder at this time (e.g. inquire about travel arrangements or dietary needs). Elders are approachable and open to questions. Part of honouring Elders is seeking their guidance and direction.

Present your request respectfully, using phrasing such as, “Our staff would be honoured if you would join our next meeting and open it with a prayer.” An Elder/Knowledge Keeper may take a few days to respond to your invitation. If the presenting of tobacco was not offered initially, it may be presented to the Elder when they arrive.


How do I Host an Elder/Knowledge Keeper?

Make sure Elders/Knowledge Keepers are comfortable and welcomed once they arrive. Have drinks such as tea, water and coffee available. Having sugar-free sweeteners on hand is a good idea as well. If a meal is served, serve the Elder first. If no meal is being served, provide a light snack.

If the Elder/Knowledge Keeper has been asked to open the meeting with a prayer and a smudge, someone knowledgeable or requested by the Elder/Knowledge Keeper may assist them.

At the end of the visit/event/meeting, the Elder should be thanked formally. A handshake may be received lightly, not a firm grip. During this time, you should present the Elder/Knowledge Keeper with a gift and/or honourarium. Also, acknowledge the task/s the Elder/Knowledge Keeper performed. Remember, when speaking with or in the company of Elders, not to interrupt them. This is considered rude behaviour.

Honorarium and Gift Giving

Honorariums and gift-giving are honoured traditions founded on the principle of reciprocity: When you take, something must be given in return. Once the Elder has fulfilled your request, an honorarium and a gift should be given to express your gratitude and appreciation.

It is common for a monetary honorarium to be offered to Elders and community resource people as an acknowledgement of them sharing their valuable expertise and knowledge. It is a payment in exchange for services and should be presented on the day of the event. Please ensure that you provide payment in the form of a CBE cheque (do not pay cash).

Processing the honorarium must be arranged in advance; thus, the teacher or the school must book the services of an Elder during the development of their year plan or as required by central bookkeeping in order that that the cultural resource person receive payment on the day of service.

Other Planning Resources

Here are some documents that you may find useful as you plan your event:

Next Steps

Once you’ve held your Family Night, it is important to continue the work of creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students in your school. Some resources that may help with that goal can be found below:


Other Helpful Links

Thankful to Our Elders

A special thank you to all of the Elders, Knowledge Keepers and Cultural Advisors from Edmonton and surrounding areas that contributed to the development of this information.

This learning guide was a collaborative project between Edmonton Public Schools and the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium.