The Protocol of Gifting

There will be elders and others who will help us in our journey at the dance. Often we feel moved to express our gratitude with a gift or offering from our heart. Ask yourself: what does this support mean to me; how do I value it? You are not only honoring and respecting your relationship to your elders, you are honoring and respecting your relationship with the Great Mystery, and demonstrating the value and wisdom of what you have been given with a sense of gratitude.

In the past…

the elders, the singers, the drummers were supported by the people because these medicine people supported the community and its very foundation. Supporting them meant that they were always available when needed, allowing the medicine people to be without concern for their daily survival. When the medicine people and the elders were called to ceremony, they had a responsibility to come in support for the people.

Gifting was a way of life, and an integral part of the way the community naturally worked. Back then money wasn’t what was offered; at a potlatch it was the exchange of blankets, horses, food and other goods needed for daily life that was exchanged.

Fast Forward to the present…

Nowadays, the tasks and responsibilities of the elders and medicine people have not changed: when an elder is called to ceremony, it is for the people. And the elder, in response to the calling of Spirit, will answer the call wherever it may be. The spectrum of our gifts may have widened, but our need to value the wisdomkeepers will always be.

But in today’s world the elders cannot live on tobacco alone. If they are in ceremony they are not involved in their regular livelihood. If we as dancers have the means and the wherewithal to address their financial needs with cash, this is something that will be gratefully appreciated, and then some. But gifting comes in all sizes and shapes, yet the most important aspect is that it comes from the heart.

The Protocol of Gifting

There is ceremonial protocol for the way gifting is done. Different traditions may have different protocols, but these general suggestions are a good starting place. They are rooted in the tradition of the Great Basin peoples from which our modern-day dance was born:

If you have a question about ceremony or your inner work, that is what we call a “tobacco question”. It is customary to include tobacco in your offering for wisdom being requested. Traditional gifts usually involve, at the very minimum, tobacco wrapped in red cloth; if money is given it is placed atop the tobacco in plain sight. It is important to note that the person you are asking the question may want to sit with your question, listening to hear what answer comes. Be patient.

The how of the gifting will vary with the situation. For most situations a basic rule of thumb for elders is to come with a gift in your hand, and let them know you have an offering for them. They will hold out their hands. Extend the gift in your hands four times, but do not actually place the gift in their hands until the fourth time.

Keep in mind, elders are approachable, although they may not be always available. Just before and just after the evening dance is not a good time; our down time — at the dining hall, during a rest period— may be better. First ask if they have a moment to speak with you. When in doubt, ask your buddy or an experienced dancer to help you approach them.