One organizer is holding up the Penticton Indian Band’s hosting of the 38th annual BC Elders Gathering, which ends today, as an example for all others to follow.
“Penticton is wonderful, the co-operation of the PIB (Penticton Indian Band) regional district (Okanagan-Similkameen) and the city shows just what can be accomplished,” said Brad Boyes, a director of the Gathering Society and event chairman.
“I think now it’s time for all of us to get in one canoe and paddle in one direction for the benefit of the future.
“Some people talk the talk and don’t really mean it but with your mayor (Garry Litke) here in Penticton and (PIB Chief) Jonathan Kruger and (chairman) Mark (Pendergraft) of the regional district they walk the walk. Success takes partnerships and really that’s what it boils down to.”
The gathering got underway at the South Okanagan Events Centre Monday morning with traditional drumming and songs welcoming the many weathered and smiling faces to their seats.
The event draws together elders from across B.C. — and this year, across Canada and Washington state — giving them a chance to share ideas amongst themselves, and make contact with their peers from other communities.
It’s also a chance to socialize, have some fun and regenerate themselves for future work.
The opening prayer was delivered by Joey Pierre, who stood from his wheelchair with wife Caroline by his side, holding his arm.
The couple were the king and queen in 1997, the only other time Penticton hosted the gathering.
Following Arnie Baptiste’s high-energy rendition of the honour song and welcoming remarks by PIB Chief Jonathan Kruger was the grand entry of the participants, carrying banners identifying their bands and nation affiliation.
“It was an astounding demonstration. It was like the opening of the Olympics,” said Litke afterwards.
“They went around and around the SOEC for the better part of an hour amid cheers and drumming and singing and dancing, it was just a marvellous event.”
In the afternoon the venue changed to the Outma Sqilx’w Cultural School on the Penticton Indian Reserve for a band presentation, traditional feast and sponsorship events.
A traditional powwow took place in the evening at the SOEC.
On Tuesday there were several addresses by dignitaries and several workshops, healing and performers and a social and dance that night.
Wednesday activities focused on the closing ceremonies. Former Penticton chief and now Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, who told the touching story of his rebirth into his own culture on the opening day, believes the elders are the future of First Nations.
“They are the ones who have that magic that keeps the communities together and provides that wisdom and moral guidance. Quite often now you will find elders and young people together which bodes quite well for our people,” he said.
Chief Kruger told the crowd how “happy and blessed” the band is to host the Gathering.
“There is a very powerful genuine and excellent feeling from this,” he said. “The spirit is amazing.”
Boyes summed up the importance of the Gathering this way: “The elders are constant, their constant is the future of their people, the future of all people and all children.”