By LeRae Haynes –
There is still an air of excitement in the air from the 40th annual BC Elders Gathering that took place in Williams Lake this July. Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said she was incredibly inspired by the event, and that it was an honour to have it in Williams Lake.
“The Elders Gathering was very positive: everywhere I go people are still talking about it,” she said.
The Williams Lake Indian Band was the largest private contributor to the Elders Gathering this summer. The band contributed $10,000 and the Chief Will-Yum Gas Bar donated $2,000.
“Year after year a large group of our elders attend the gathering and really enjoy them – I’ve gone to a few myself. I know the benefits of attending something so positive where you have the opportunity to share with others and learn so much,” she said, adding that you make new connections and meet old friends.
“Our elders are getting up in years and we have to give back to them in some way. I have always been passionate about giving back to them; without them we wouldn’t have what we have today.
“The grand entry is so empowering for me every time I go. I see the power that First Nations people have in this province.”
She said that the band did tours in the Sugarcane community showing their businesses, heritage church and residential school site, stating that powerful discussions resulted. “Both tours were full. We heard often how advanced our band is, and appreciation for all the activities we do here. It was so good to mingle with everyone and hear their comments and questions,” she explained.
“We had such great volunteers at the Elders Gathering. For me, it just showed that everyone can work together when they choose to and can fit into each other’s cultures. The more you work together the more can be accomplished. It says a lot about our small community that when the need is there people come together.
“The impact of this Elders Gathering will benefit Williams Lake for years to come.”
One of the many volunteers who worked tirelessly at the Gathering was Mary Forbes from the Cariboo Chilcotin Waste Wise program, and her team of volunteers. “We contacted the organizers to see if they wanted us to help with recycling at the event: consult and train volunteers,” she said.
They ended up not just recycling and consulting—they ended up doing all the garbage at the event. They set up manned recycling and compost stations, separated and sorted hundreds of bags of garbage and returned bottles for deposit, donating all proceeds back to the Elders Gathering.
They composted over 1,000 lbs of garbage at the Potato House garden.
Her team got started the Friday before the Gathering began; their shortest day was 12 hours and their longest was 19. “I had the most amazing volunteers: Misty Schulz, Oliver Berger, Mark Goddard and a woman named Sarah whose last name I never learned,” Mary said. “She came every single day and helped until she had to go pick up her kids.”
They did recycling at every venue, every event, every meal, and sorted every garbage can. Rain soaked, they would sluice off the compost and bottle residue, fall in bed for a few hours and crawl out to do it all over again. After the volunteer dinner at the end of the Gathering, they swept the whole venue and the complex told them it was the cleanest event they’d ever had.
“The elders themselves were so thankful and so wonderful: it was amazing,” Mary said. “The Tsihlqot’in National Government contacted me to say they were so grateful for all the work and the training we provided, and want to set up that kind of system in their offices.”
She added that the Gathering was inspiring, beautiful and that everyone was so grateful and generous. “I wish that all cultures would recognize their elders with joyous expression like the Elders Gathering,” she said. “I would like to see all elders celebrated like this.”
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.