Innatuqat, Elders, Shaman and Griot … storytellers and healers


Written By: Pat Kelly

In many indigenous cultures, elders played an important part as storytellers, musicians, praise singers and oral historians, preserving the peace and settling conflicts within communities.

In the Inuit tradition, the elders had great authority. As Kim Kangok states in her essay, “The innatuqat, the elders, were known to have powerful minds, so powerful that they were capable of changing one’s future for good or bad.” When they thought people were not behaving correctly, they would counsel them, and their words carried great weight.

A culture centred on Relationship or All My Relations is the foundation of all First Nations teaching and learning. The inclusion of Elders in the process can be described as the ‘heart’ of First Nations teachings. Since Pre-Colonial times, Elders have been the Gatekeepers of First Nations wisdom, knowledge, and history. Elders traditionally hold crucial roles in supporting both formal and informal education in First Nations communities. They impart tradition, knowledge, culture, values, and lessons using orality and role modeling traditional practices.

Elders are the carriers and emblems of communally generated and mediated knowledge and are first and foremost teachers and role models. They are vital in the teaching process, from infanthood to adulthood and beyond.

The powerful leadership qualities that enable people to feel connected and to belong to their history and culture, crosses all cultures.

Since the 13th century, when Griots originated from the West African Mande tradition, in the empire of Mali, griots provided service to their communities, based on preserving the genealogies, historical narratives, and oral traditions of their people. And as such, have for centuries retold the history of the empire, thus keeping their history and traditions alive.

Traditionally, griots were of a social caste, the art and important position of storytelling passed down from generations of griot families and as such, not just anyone could become a griot. In addition, griots were responsible for keeping all the births, deaths and marriages throughout the generations of the family or village.

Today, the role of the griot is gaining momentum here in Ottawa through a project called “The Griot in Me”. In collaboration with the Association of Black Entrepreneurs and Professionals Ottawa Gatinueau, Heritage Canada and others is offering Black Youth between the ages of 15-29 leadership and learning opportunities to become their own griot and archivists.

Embedding the traditional skills of storytelling and knowledge sharing in Black Youth helps all of to gain a sense of the power “We are all Griots”

To learn more about “The Griot in Me” call 1-613-422-5292 or email


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