December 15, 2020

KH Senior Associate Elina Hill volunteered at the 42nd annual B.C. Elders’ Gathering in July, and writes about the event below.

Nearly 3000 Indigenous elders came from all over B.C. to the 42nd annual B.C. Elders’ Gathering hosted this year by the Cowichan Tribes on their traditional territory. I was pleased to be able to help at the event which allows Elders from across the province to connect, learn, and share their knowledge and cultures via workshops, speakers, performances, meals, and more. This year’s theme was ‘I tst ‘o’ hwun’ ‘I (We are still here), and highlighted the important role that elders have in community building, and in helping younger generations understand and connect with their culture. The theme also highlighted the resiliency of these elders, many of whom have experienced residential schools and the Sixties Scoop first hand. 

The first Elders’ Gathering was hosted in 1977 by Coqualeeza Elders in the Stó:lō Nation. Since then, various traditions have developed that continue today. These include the role of the King and Queen, meant to honour particular elders for their contributions. As well, there are many opportunities for elders to share their cultures and languages. As guest speaker Scott Fraser (B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations) noted, “Over half of the languages in all of the country are here in British Columbia, indigenous languages… the holders of the languages are very low for fluent language so we don’t have any time to waste.”

The Elders’ Gathering also gives younger generations the chance to honour their elders and show respect in practical ways. The Cowichan Tribes are the largest single First Nation Band in British Columbia, and the presence and contribution of their youth was particularly impressive! I worked alongside youth, and others in the community to assist elders. And it wasn’t only Cowichan youth that were present. Youth and others traveled with elders from communities across the province. The talented Ta’Kaiya Blaney (Tla’Amin First Nation) spoke and then performed at the event (see below for picture). (You can check out one of her videos here: https://youtu.be/l9tTdy4OnQs.)


Ta’Kaiya Blaney (Tla’Amin First Nation), performing at the B.C. Elders’ Gathering. Photo courtesy of Elina Hill.

Whether helping someone get to where they needed to be, serving lunch, or distributing water, it was a pleasure to chat with elders and contribute to the success of the gathering. Thanks very much to organizers, and to the Cowichan Tribes for hosting this great event.