This July, Penticton could be the scene of one of the largest gatherings of First Nations elders on record.
Up to 6,000 elders could be in attendance at the 38th annual B.C. Elders’ Gathering, hosted by the Penticton Indian Band from July 7 to 9 at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre.
“We are bringing this event to another level,” said Emory and Vera Gabriel, King and Queen for this year’s event. They were selected during last year’s gathering, and have spent the last year visiting communities and inviting elders from around B.C. and across the country.
“No other King and Queen has done what we have done this year,” said Emory. “We’ve gone across the country. We want to bring it to the national level.”
The annual elders’ gathering is unique to B.C., explained Vera. It’s not duplicated in any other region of Canada.
“That is all it is, a B.C. gathering and nobody else has one,” she said. But this year, organizers are planning to make it the first national gathering.
It’s been more than a decade since Penticton hosted an Elders’ Gathering, back in 1997 with Joey and Caroline Pierre as King and Queen. In recent years, with two successful aboriginal business conferences and the Gathering Our Voices youth conference last year, the PIB has developed a reputation as a great host.
“They did well with the business match and the youth gathering was excellent. We didn’t think it could get any bigger than that,” said Vera.
Last year, the Elders’ Gathering in Prince George drew 3,000 participants and, with the new national focus, the Gabriels say the 2014 conference could draw twice that many. Elder, in this context, doesn’t simply mean an older person. These are teachers, advisors and leaders of their communities, grandparents, people with wisdom to share.
The reason for the event, the Gabriels say, is to draw together elders, giving them a chance to share ideas amongst themselves, make contact with their peers from other communities. It’s also a chance to socialize, have some fun and regenerate themselves for future work.
“Kids are acting out now and they don’t know why, and a lot of times it is because of unresolved issues that is being passed on,” said Emory.
“We want to offer some information on that, we also want to give our old people confidence in talking to their children and telling stories, and trying to give them some idea of what is going on and how things happened.
“We want to honour our elders through stories and teachings, that is our theme this year.”
There will be the usual conference activities like seminars and workshops, but the Gabriels say there is also a lot of entertainment planned, ranging from traditional to modern.
“A lot of local talent, drumming and singing of course, we also have the guitars,” said Emory. “We are trying to generate a good time, we want people to have fun.”
The entertainment includes talented Okanagan performers, along with two traditional dance troupes from Vancouver Island and the Spirit Bear Dancers. But there are also going to be two rock and roll bands.
“One band is called Nighthawk and they were together for 45 years. They are from Alkali Lake and the other is Richie and the Fendermen, they are from Spences’ Bridge,” said Emory.
“There are going to be dance contests, jive contests, because we are from the jive era and the twist era,” said Vera. “Last year, they went crazy, the dance was supposed to last until 10 p.m., and they danced until 1 a.m. Everybody stayed and the next day you see people walking around like they didn’t do anything the night before.”
With so many people expected at the event, the Gabriels say the wider community also has a part to play. The event itself is for the elders, they explained, but those elders are also going to be out and about in the region.
“They are going to play a big part in making our elders from around B.C. welcome in the city of Penticton. They will be going into restaurants, into stores, and certainly all the hotels are full,” said Vera.
“So just make them comfortable, these are old people,” joked Emory. Some local businesses are already sponsoring the event, and some hotels are offering package deals, but Vera said there is room for more.
“If anyone else is interested, we won’t say no. If they want to donate a coupon or anything like that, we can put it in the gift bags,” she said. There will also be tour groups visiting places like the Nk’mip Desert and Cultural Centre, the En’owkin Centre, as well as the PIB’s own Outma Squilax’w Cultural School.
“And this all fits in two and a half days,” said Vera. “Putting it together, our heads are just spinning.”