They came by the thousands to Campbell River to the territories of the Laich-kwil-tach. They came in buses, they came in vans and they came in cars. They drove through forest fires on highways that were still open, unsure what would happen to their homes when they were away. They sat through ferry line ups, came through busy highways and endured the heat. They, were the First Nations elders coming from their communities across BC going to the 41st BC Elders Gathering.
The conference starts with the Grand Entry. Nation-by-Nation the elders come into the big arena, wearing their regalia with signs from where they come from. They come in drumming, they come in singing their songs, they dance, they walk, they came in their wheel chairs or walkers or use their canes. However they come in, they come in with power, they come in with pride, and they came in with smiles on their faces to be with so many elders, friends and family all in one place. There wwr so many elders it took well over an hour for them all to enter the grand ent is the highlight of the conference
You can feel all the shared wisdom, experience, knowledge and love of the land and waters of where they come from in that large room. Amazing energy flowed in that room today.
The Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon came to greet the elders. Yesterday she was in a canoe in Tribal Journeys from Brittania beach into Squamish. She had an awesome two days.
Minister of Justice and Attorney general for Canada Jody Wilson Raybould also attended and walked in with her Nation and made remarks about how great it was to be there with all the BC elders
Also on hand was the Mayor of Campbell River to welcome people to the city and Member if Parliament Rachel Blaney for the riding of Campbell river
National Chief Perry Bellegarde was also on hand to greet the elders. BC’s Elders Gathering is one of the only gatherings of its kind in Canada although this September will be a national indigenous elders conference.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was heartily welcomed by all. Cheryl Casimer and Robert Phillips from the First Nation Summit also had their place on the podium and Cheryl gave remarks from the Summit. Acting Regional Chief Maureen Chapman also spoke on behalf of the BC Assembly of First Nations. There were so many dignitaries paying the respect to the elders who are the backbones of their communities.
The elders conference is to bring elders together to share ideas, provide information on many issues on health, education, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s inquiry, etc. It is a time for self care and you can get a manicure, get your haircut, do traditional cleansing, reiki and other such things.
There is entertainment for all, be it karaoke or dancing, or comedians. Songs, dances and other cultural exchanges take place. It is a time for mixing and mingling and sharing what the issues are in our communities. There is also the best arts and crafts fair around. So many artists, designers, jewellers, and other crafters display their work and you can never go away empty handed. Support First Nations entrepreneurs is easy with such a great selection of goods.
Every year, a new community steps forward to host this gathering. Hosting the Elders Gathering is a huge task. Finding a venue that holds 2000-4000 people is not easy. Having a place where there are enough hotel rooms for all the visitors. Finding a caterer that can serves that many people three times a day is also important.
The Elders gathering is an important tradition for all the First Nations in BC. Funding raising goes on year round in most communities to make sure they have enough money to journey to wherever the next gathering is. It is a time to celebrate who we are as indigenous peoples, and when necessary, draw on the expertise, knowledge and wisdom of their lives lived.
If you get a chance to attend an elders gathering, do so, you are in for a real treat and get a glimpse of what First Nations across BC look like, what they value and empower yourself with the positive energy of the gathering of so many incredible elders with a vast array of experiences and life stories.