Community

Elders Gathering renews friendships, strengthens ties

First Nations artist  and activist Beau Dick of Alert Bay and his group performed on stage at the South Okanagan Events Centre at the closing ceremonies of the B.C. Elders Gathering Wednesday.  - Mark Brett/Penticton Western News
First Nations artist and activist Beau Dick of Alert Bay and his group performed on stage at the South Okanagan Events Centre at the closing ceremonies of the B.C. Elders Gathering Wednesday.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Penticton Western News

The drums have been stilled, the flags and banners taken down and 3,000 First Nations elders are making their way back home.

“It went wonderful, everything we expected,” said Vera Gabriel.  “The elders all had a good time, they were eager to come back in the morning and they were all happy. That is what we worked towards.”

Vera and her husband Emory, were selected last year to be King and Queen of the 38th annual Elder’s Gathering at last year’s event in Prince George. They’ve spent the time since visiting First Nations across B.C. and even in other provinces to invite them to the annual gathering.

“We talked to them about the importance of storytelling, the importance of talking to your children and relaying those messages they needed to hear, talking about becoming closer with your children in doing all that,” said Vera. Developing those relationships, strengthening the ties between generations was the theme and goal of this year’s event.

Vera remembers seeing examples of those ties during the gathering, which wrapped up Wednesday afternoon.

“I could see a grandfather leading his grandsons down the aisle — it was good,” she said. Renewing old connections and forging new ones was also a big part of what happened at the event

“This is what it is all about, people getting back together, old acquaintances being renewed,” Vera said.

The closing ceremonies included passing the baton, or in this case a totem, on to the Tsawout nation from Vancouver Island, which has been chosen to host the 2015 gathering.

“I don’t know that we needed to pass on what we taught, what we learned or whatever, because they came and they watched,” said Vera. “They came up and they met with us over the year, then they came and they watched, took down notes and they are ready to go.”

The response from the attendees was enthusiastic, according to Vera.

“We always asked and the elders gave us their assurance they enjoyed themselves and thanked the Penticton Indian Band profusely for hosting,” she said. “That was a positive response, it was what we worked for.”

Emory said the success of the gathering was due to the team of volunteers and helpers from the band.

“Everybody came and played their role and did their job, the result was people had a good time, they made us look good, our group. That’s a plus, we didn’t have to do it all ourselves,” he said.

The king and queen were understandably tired from their year of organizing, topped by the three-day event, which was filled with multiple functions and activities. Though some of the tiredness no doubt stems from the traditional powwow Monday night, which was matched by a rocking evening on Tuesday.

“It was wild. There is a certain amount of energy in elders, that they don’t display until they get some rock and roll,” said Vera. “And it was well displayed last night. We had a jive contest, a twist contest, we had spot dances.”

“We had a good emcee (Chris Derrickson from Westbank) and we had two good bands: one was Nighthawk and the other was Richie and the Fender Benders.”

Ray Silver, a Stó:lõ elder and adviser on the board for the Elders’ Gathering, said he was sad to see this year’s event ending and to say goodbye to so many new and old friends.

“It seems kind of sad now it is all over. All my new friends, all that new respect that I got from the Okanagan people, from all the people, I am kind of sad,” said Silver.

“I believe that is the way it used to be among our people in the past. It was forgotten and I believe that respect I am talking about is coming back now. I believe the elders have a lot to do with it coming back.”

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