Elders Gathering King and Queen, Ollie and Edwina Henderson (left), and B.C. Lt. Gov. Judith Guichon enter the B.C. Elders Gathering opening ceremony at Strathcona Gardens Tuesday morning. Jocelyn Doll/Campbell River Mirror

BC Elders gathering starts in Campbell River today

Around 3,000 delegates from First Nations communities across the province are in Campbell River right now until Friday for the annual Elders Gathering.

Part of the event is open to the public. One of the arenas in Strathcona Gardens is set up with information and vendors, entry to which will be a donation to the food bank.

There will also be performances and activities in Spirit Square and other locations in the city that the public is encouraged to attend.

As well as speeches, entertainment and workshops the Elders will have the chance to have health checks, participate in workouts in the pool and in the gym and tour the area.

Donna Stirling, coordinator of the BC Elders Communication Center Society, said that the activities the society is planning include bingos and traditional crafts.

The gatherings provide the opportunity for people to exchange memories, knowledge and perspective. The purpose of the gathering is foster relationships and community links between the Elders from nations across the province.

The event gives them the opportunity to meet like-mind with like-minded, like-aged individuals and their families.

There are also opportunities for the delegates to interface with youth to mitigate the generation gap and encourage younger generations to demonstrate respect, regard and honour for their elders.

The King and Queen of the gathering, Ollie and Edwina Henderson, have been attending events and promoting the gathering throughout the city since the BC Elders Communication Centre Society won the bid for the event at the 2015 gathering in Williams Lake.

“Allan and Edwina Henderson were chosen by the society because they are great supporters of the Annual Elders Gathering having attended the last 16 years all over the province,” said Donna Stirling, BCECCS Coordinator. “They are highly respected elders from the Wei Wai Kum Nation with deep cultural roots and they are both upstanding community members and staunch advocates of the importance of the Elders Gathering and its traditions continuing for all of our future generations.”

Campbell River first hosted the event in 2000. Because of its success, the society once again decided to bid to have the event come to the city.

“A couple of years ago after a few of us started putting our heads together again we decided to pursue the event for our home town, in honour of our family members who had passed on since the last time we hosted and in honour of all of our local elders,” said Stirling.

The first Elders Gathering was hosted by the Coqualeetza Elders of the Sto:Lo Nation in Chilliwack. A totem pole was carved to commemorate the event and the places and dates of the gatherings are inscribed at the base of the pole each year.

Campbell River hosted the gathering in 2000.

Stirling said that event “stands to this day as the benchmark for a truly quality event with which to honour our respected elders.”

At the time the event cost $250,000 to host and brought in more than $1 million.

Stirling said that now, “those figures have at least quadrupled over the years with the event itself having a $1 million budget.”