By LeRae Haynes –
More than 2,000 First Nations Elders from across the province are expected to arrive in the Cariboo mid-July to share and celebrate the heritage of BC First Nations.
Over the past 40 years the Annual BC Elders Gathering has become the top event for Elders to celebrate continued education in the histories, cultures, and ways of Aboriginal communities and in the experiences and contributions of community Elders.
This year it’s taking place in Williams Lake, with the hosts Tl’etinqox, one of six Tsilhqot’in communities, along with their united support from the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin), Secwepemc (Shuswap), Dene (Carrier), St’at’imc (Lillooet Nation), and Nuxalk (Bella Coola) on July 12-14 at Thompson Rivers University and Cariboo Memorial Complex. The gathering at the University and Memorial Complex are only open to Elder participants and VIP dignitaries, while the Cultural Tent City, Arts and Crafts, and Wild West Rodeo are free and open to the public.
The Purpose of the Elders Gathering is so the Elders can come together and take their rightful place as advisors, teachers, and leaders. Many Elders are involved and work at the community level throughout the year. They participate at meetings, workshops, and various events to support the youth, education committees, and Band Council. The Gatherings are a time to socialize and celebrate their accomplishments as well as regenerate themselves for future work.
The Elders Gathering also serves to educate and provide guidance, support, and mentoring for Aboriginal youth through interactions with elders and other members of their community, which helps to promote the sharing of information, knowledge, and ideas, and enhance ties between Aboriginal communities.
To celebrate the Elders Gathering’s 40th year in Williams Lake, the Wild Wild West Rodeo, co-ordinated by leader and educator Joan Gentles, daughter of Leonard Palmantier, and one of the original competitors and organizers of the Wild West Stampede, is free and open to everyone to attend on July 11. It begins with a Grand Entry at 5:00 p.m.
New this year and open to the public is the Cultural Tent City, showcasing the history and culture of the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin), Secwepemc (Shuswap), Dene (Carrier), St’at’imc (Lillooet Nation), and Nuxalk (Bella Coola), and arts and crafts, at the Williams Lake Curling Club.
The Downtown Williams Lake Business Improvement Association (BIA) is taking a unique role in the event.
“We’re co-ordinating the gift bag stuffing for the gathering—bringing together all the items that go in the bags given to the Elders,” explains Kate Lines, BIA office and event co-ordinator. “We’re also bringing together volunteers to gather at rink #2 at the Complex and stuffing 4,000 bags in one day.”
She said the influence of First Nations Elders and communities is very important to the BIA. “We made it a priority to partner with the First Nations communities: we want them to have a powerful voice in how we shape the downtown core,” she said. “That’s why we celebrate every opportunity that comes our way to strengthen relationships and build great things together.”
Building the gift bags for the gathering is a good example of that. “When it came to inviting volunteers to stuff the 4,000 bags I started by inviting Cariboo Prince George MP Todd Doherty and Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett and local First Nations leaders,” she said.
“We would like this to be an opportunity for our community leaders and members to have a discussion and to express their desire to build a new kind of community—one that celebrates and welcomes all of us.”