Gathering Our Voices 2013 will bring some 1,500 aboriginal youth to Penticton to participate in four days of workshops, learning and making connections next week.
“The youth conference is a provincial gathering that has been going on for ten years.This is our 11th year, and we made it a national conference this year,” said co-ordinator Della Preston. “We have over 1,200 aboriginal youth registered. We have capacity for 2,000, but we are anticipating up to 1,500 to 1,600.”
The annual conference is sponsored by the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and co-hosted this year by the Ooknakane Friendship Centre, taking place in the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre until March 22, in the traditional territory of the Okanagan people.
“I can’t say enough good things about the youth programs that go on through the friendship centres as a whole,” said Peggy Joe, executive director at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre. “Through this conference they provide opportunities for young people to gain skills in leadership.”
The conference is for aboriginal youth 14 to 24 targeting both urban aboriginal youth and youth in First Nations communities.
It’s also about forging connections, according to Joe, who said that delegations and youth will be attending from all the local First Nations communities.
“They meet kids from all over the province. It’s a sense of connection, especially for the urban kids who may not have grown up on the reserves, they feel a real sense of belonging,” said Joe. “It provides that opportunity for connecting.”
“Bringing people together in the same space, sharing space, sharing food, sharing the space and time to learn together, to grow from one another,” said Preston, describing the conference.
The conference will have multiple streams of training, activities, and information for aboriginal youth. Youth will engage in educational and training workshops, a career and education fair, cultural and recreational activities, evening events, and motivational speakers.
Those speakers include J.R. LaRose and Angus Reid from the B.C. Lions and Dr. Evan Adams from the province.
“The theme of the conference is health this year. We wanted to look at all the different areas of health,” said Preston. There are 12 different sessions youth can chose from, learning more about stress management, life changes, fitness and nutrition and other aspects of health like the relationship between art and health.
“We have gyms and fitness centres all open for youth,” said Preston. “It is not just talking about their health, they are actually doing it through the workshops, they will be getting right into a basketball workshop.”
It’s not all workshops all the time. There are some fun events involved with the conference as well, like the talent show that takes place on Wednesday night.
“They are pumped, they are excited. For some of them it is their first time to get up on a professionally run stage,” said Preston. “It is a pretty magical moment when a young person gets up in front of their peers and their peers stand up and applaud them and support them.”
Some of the attendees, according to Preston, have been coming for years and are moving into leadership roles at the conference. That, she continued, has led to a focus on mentoring.
“What is mentorship? How do we foster mentorship?” said Preston. Some youth, after taking on chaperone roles at the conference are moving on to become facilitators.
“They have this desire to share their knowledge, their skills they have taken from the conference and facilitate workshops,” said Preston. “We are trying to track that now. After ten years of a lengthy process, you can start to think about those longer term impacts for these young people.”