“If you do not have your own knowledge systems then you are forever held hostage in one paradigm (colonization) and how can people flourish if they’re using an alien form of knowing? The ways of knowing in any culture, any society, that’s the way you evolve.”
Betty Bastien, Windspeaker, 2017 (Windspeaker.com)


This Masterclass is dedicated to Betty Bastien who has guided and inspired so many. She has tirelessly opened the world to Indigenous knowledge through her writing, teaching, and scholarship. This world is a better place because of Betty. The lives that Betty has touched are forever blessed. GIFT has been honoured to have Betty on their board and as a mentor to us all. Thank you, Betty this course has been guided and mentored by you. We are forever grateful.


The Seventh Generation Indigenous Foundation and Training – GIFT was created as a wellness training institution based on a new model of compassionate inquiry into trauma and the link of intergenerational trauma and our response to it. The primary goal being community capacity building and empowerment through the provision of the necessary tools to address inter-generational trauma.
GIFT is honoured to present the Betty Bastien Legacy Sacred Life Masterclass. It is the first part of a larger curriculum in the making that will be delivered to First Nation communities as they journey though healing and embracing their full potential. This course is the foundation of what is to follow. It is part of a circle and as the course develops and comes full circle this section will be the point of centering and grounding. It is a place to come back to over and over. It has no beginning and no end. As in life all is a completion of a circle. Welcome to the starting point that will embrace and guide all that you learn and become during your journey through this curriculum.

Sacred Life Master Class

This course will guide participants in grounding themselves as they explore the circle of life from birth to death and re-birth. It will aid participants to shift their perceptions and lead them back to who they really are as they journey through an understanding of they mysteries of the cycle of life.

Sacred Life Master Class Objectives

Sacred Life Master Class Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this Masterclass participants will be able to accomplish the following.

Sacred Life Master Class Cycles (sections, lessons)

  1. The Sacred Life
  2. Elder Mentor Process
  3. Land And Language As A Way Of Being
  4. Traditional Teachings On The Cycle Of Life


Lesson 1

The Sacred Life

A Sacred Life is about living in balance and the interconnectedness with all life. It links the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual aspects of one’s being. The Sacred Life joins one with Mother Earth and all living beings – the winged ones, the finned ones, the four legged, all plant life, water, and ecosystems. It brings about harmony as we live and depend on each other, and the world around us. The Sacred Life teaches us that we are all interdependent.

Facilitator Note

The concept of the Sacred Life is an important starting point to the Master Class. In learning about the Sacred Life it motivates participants to embrace life, learn about the cycles of life, and to become one with the land and world around them.  It embodies an experiential process as outlined by Betty Bastien in an introduction to her Social Work class.

It is important for participants to learn about this process as they begin to learn about the Sacred Life and their place in it. Guide them in reviewing each step from Desire to transformation before starting the lesson.
Let participants know they will be journaling throughout this course, and it is an important process as they absorb the experiential process they go through in their Awareness Masterclass journey



Sacred Life Introduction

Before the Activity

  1. Familiarize yourself with Elder Protocol. An example guideline is found at Guidelines-for-Working-with-Indigenous-Elders.pdf (carleton.ca) Make sure to learn about the protocols in your area before inviting the Elder/Knowledge Keeper
  2. Invite a community Elder and/or Knowledge Keeper to give Sacred Life teachings to the participants and to incorporate original language into the teaching.
  3. Ask the participants if they have heard about the Sacred Life concepts/teachings.
  4. Participants share what Sacred Life means to them.

During the Activity

Introduce the invited Elder and/or Knowledge Keeper to the class and model protocols of having the Elder participate.

Facilitator Note: Make sure you are aware of your community’s Elder protocol and of the individual’s protocols and use them accordingly.

  1. Allow Elder/Knowledge Keeper to start their presentation with ceremony if they want to do so.
  2. Participants listen closely to the Elder/Knowledge Keepers Sacred Life teaching.
  3. Participants have the Elder/Knowledge Keeper review the original language terms with them so they can have them become part of their being.
  4. Gift the Elder/Knowledge Keeper upon completion of their teaching.

After the Activity

Have participants write a letter to the Elder/Knowledge Keeper thanking them and sharing what they learned from the Sacred Life teaching.


  1. Participants discuss what they learned from the Sacred Life teaching.
  2. Ask participants to explore, share, and use the original language words they learned in the teaching.
  3. Ask participants to reflect on the experiential learning process they learned about before starting the lesson and to discuss what steps they feel they went through while engaged in this lesson.
  4. Ask participants to share the impact of the activity on them.

Follow Up

Have the participants journal their thoughts, impressions, and learning about the Sacred Life teaching and explore how they will live them.

Lesson Assessment/Evaluation

  1. Participant journal entry review
  2. Assessment of participants understanding of Sacred Life Teaching
  3. Evaluation of student discussions
  4. Appraisal of participants letter to Elder/Knowledge Keeper

Lesson 2

Elder Mentor Process

Having an Elder mentor is very important to one’s growth and healing. An Elder mentor can pass on cultural traditional wisdom, language, knowledge, teachings, and support one to grow, learn, and heal. Choosing an Elder to walk with you as you engage in this masterclass and the rest of the curriculum that follows will assist you in staying centered and grounded as you shift your perceptions and come full circle to who you really are as a complete human being.

Facilitator Note

Elders are respected community members who carry and transmit their culture and traditions. They are a source of guidance and teachings. Elders do not promote themselves and are not self-identified. The communities know who they are and choose them.
Elders have different roles, and it is not one size fits all. An Elder can be a teacher, counsellor, ceremony leader, healer, cultural advisor, historian, a land steward/protector, and more. Elders have earned their recognition and are seen as caring and willing to share their experience and knowledge with others.

Each community has their own expectations and ways of recognizing a person as an Elder. An example on Elder expectations taken from the University of Alberta’s Council on Aboriginal Initiatives in 2012 is found below. This is to serve as an example and may or may not be the norm of the community you are in.

  1. Disciplined and committed to a lifetime of learning
  2. Knows traditional teachings and is committed to helping people within this framework
  3. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy
  4. Born with, or seeks, the gift of healing in apprenticeship with a traditional healer
  5. Walks his or her talk, i.e., lives a healthy lifestyle within the parameters of traditional values
  6. Provides help when asked, although may not provide this immediately [sometimes will refer to another Elder with expertise.
  7. Able to bring traditional values and life ways into contemporary urban life and living in a practical way
  8. Treats his or her family, spouse, children, parents, Elders, and other traditional healers in a respectful and caring manner [all people]
  9. Is a positive role model for Aboriginal people
  10. Able to teach and correct behavior with kindness and respect without humiliating the individual
  11. Always hopeful of people and able to see the goodness in people
  12. Does not use alcohol or drugs or engage in other destructive addictive behavior
  13. Does not set a fee for their healing service or request gifts in payment
  14. Knows the medicines and ceremonies [has experience and participated in ceremonies],
  15. [Demonstrated] evidence of his or her success exists among the [Aboriginal] people and the [Aboriginal] communities (Aboriginal Healing Foundation 2005, pp. 70-71).”

elderprotocol.pdf (ualberta.ca)

An important aspect of walking with and learning from an Elder mentor is protocol. Protocol is a matter of respect and reciprocity. One should never take without giving back. It is a matter of taking care of one another and all life. Just as there is a diversity in Elders there are a variety of different cultural protocols. Make sure you learn about the protocols in the area you are in.

Below are some protocol examples found in the University of Alberta’s Council on Aboriginal Initiatives’ Elder Protocol and Guidelines (2012).

  1. Extending the Invitation Most Elders accept tobacco when you ask them to share their knowledge—however, this is not true for everyone. Elders have diverse teachings, so please ask first! Please also note that it is very important to be specific in making your request. If the Elder accepts the tobacco, s/he is accepting the request and will do her/his best to help you. If they cannot do what you are asking, they will say so and not accept the tobacco.

2 Gift of appreciation If the Elder agrees to become involved and accepts the tobacco, it is customary to provide a gift of appreciation afterwards to show your thanks. This gift can be monetary and can also be known as a honorarium. Historically, Elders were given food, clothing and other necessities in exchange for their help, and therefore monetary gifts are now acceptable elderprotocol.pdf (ualberta.ca)


Activity 1


Before Activity 1

During the Activity

  1. Ask participants to interview members of their family and/or community to get their perceptions on what being an Elder is and who they think are the Elder/s in their community
  2. Participants record what they found out in their interviews in either audio or written format
  3. Participants do a brief presentation on what they found out in their interviews on community perceptions of Elders
  4. Ask participants to make a list of potential Elders in their community to approach to be their Elder Mentor

Activity 2

Elder Protocols

Before Activity 2

elderprotocol.pdf (ualberta.ca)

During Activity 2

  1. Participants research the Elder protocols of their community by talking to Elders, family members, community members, Band office staff, Band Council and anyone else they see fit in their community.
  2. Ask participants to document what they learned about their community’s Elder protocols.
  3. Participants present their findings.
  4. In small groups have participants draft up Elder protocols they feel are important to incorporate and follow.
  5. Small groups presentations on their protocols
  6. Discuss and finalize what protocols the participants will incorporate and follow
  7. Write the finalized protocols on flip chart paper or white board for all to see.

After the Activities

Document the protocols and distribute to participants.

Activity 3

Choosing and Finding an Elder Mentor

Before Activity 3

Engage in a review of participant agreed upon Elder Protocols

During the Activity

  1. Assure participants that Elders are not always available, and it is not personal if their Elder of choice cannot fulfil their request.
  2. Place participants in pairs and have them discuss who they would like as their Elder mentor and how they will approach and build a relationship with their chosen Elder mentor.
  3. In pairs also discuss a plan b if the Elder mentor of choice is not available.
  4. Participants approach their chosen Elder mentors.
  5. Participants will keep in close contact with the course facilitator about the Elder mentor connections for support.

After the Activities

Participants discuss the process of obtaining their Elder mentor and how it related or did not relate to course discussion and plans.


  1. Ask students how they perceive Elders and their roles
  2. Engage participants in a discussion around Elder protocols
  3. Ask participants to share their future plans with their Elder mentor.
  4. Ask participants what they learned through lesson 2

Follow Up

Have participants journal their thoughts, feelings, and impressions of what they learned and experienced in lesson 2.

Lesson Assessment/Evaluation

  1. Participant journal entry review
  2. Evaluation of participant discussions
  3. Participant presentation observations
  4. Analysis of debrief statements regarding individual experience and learning

Lesson 3

Land And Language As A Way Of Being