Photos by John Copley
(Edmonton, AB, Treaty No. 6 Territory) – On April 12, 2017, Alberta Indigenous leaders and government partners came together to announce the 2017 National Gathering of Elders to be held September 11-14, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta. The Gathering marks the first time in Canada’s history that elders and seniors from every region and Indigenous group will come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation.
Chief Rupert Meneen, Tallcree Tribal Government and Grand Chief of Treaty 8 (Alberta) was joined by Alice Kaquitts and Atsinak Bishop, Elders Advisory Council members; Minister Richard Feehan, Indigenous Relations; Regional Chief Craig Makinaw, Assembly of First Nations Alberta; Gerald Cunningham, President, Metis Settlements General Council; Dan Cardinal, Minister of Seniors, Metis Nation of Alberta; Chief Lee Crowchild, Tsuu Tina Nation; and Kevin Murchie, Associate Regional Director General, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Alberta Region, to announce the launch of the event and invite Indigenous elders and seniors from coast to coast to coast to the historic gathering.
Building on the theme ‘Coming Home, Voices of Elders,’ the National Gathering of Elders will be a place for laughter and the sharing of culture, traditions, history, and an opportunity for the creation of long lasting connections. The event will include opening and closing ceremonies, health and wellness sessions, a tradeshow, and discussion forums on climate change, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, revitalization of Indigenous languages and culture, and reconciliation. There will be an intercultural showcase, Indigenous entertainers, a talent show and dance socials.
Grand Chief Meneen, in his opening comments stated, “The National Gathering of Elders will make history. We are inviting First Nations, Metis, Innu and Inuit Elders and seniors from all across Turtle Island to a Gathering just for them. This has not happened before. Our focus will be on making everyone feel welcome and to create opportunities for sharing our cultures, perspectives, and fostering good relations between the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.” Chief Meneen ended his comments by stating, “Our hope is that the National Gathering will become an annual event with a host community taking up the challenge by the end of the event.”
“We welcome the opportunity to work with Chief Meneen and North Peace Tribal Council as well as our Metis, Innu and Inuit counterparts here in Alberta to organize an event that has been long-awaited. The sharing of story, language, traditions, arts, and culture from East to the West and the North and South, will have meaningful and lasting impacts. Our Elders deserve this honour and we are inviting youth and the world to come and bear witness to the Gathering and learn about the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island,” stated Regional Chief Makinaw.
“The Metis Nation of Alberta is proud to be participating in the National Gathering of Elders, Coming Home, Voices of Elders Conference; we truly believe that our Elders and seniors are the keepers of our history, our culture, our stories and our traditions. They are our past, present and future. Through their wisdom, knowledge and guidance, the foundation we are building for the future is a strong one. It is so very important that we give our Elders and seniors an opportunity to come together, to visit, to tell their stories and create new friendships and this historic event, is the perfect gathering place for that,” stated Dan Cardinal on behalf of Metis Nation of Alberta President Audrey Poitras.
“Although the Metis people of the Settlements are separated on the map, together we are a family with strong indigenous roots. We continue to honour our Metis heritage through our connection with the land and through our way of life – values that are continuously taught to us by our Elders, the children of our ancestors. They are the only link between the rich history that founded our communities and the modern day, which holds a promise for our prosperity. For this we are blessed to have them in our lives and to have them be honoured at this very important, inaugural and historic event,” stated Metis Settlements General Council President, Gerald Cunningham.
Minister Feehan was in attendance to announce the provincial government’s contribution to the historic event. He said, “Alberta is proud to support this important gathering. There are real and pressing issues facing Indigenous Peoples in Alberta and throughout Canada. Increased communication and cooperation – between governments and between communities – is essential to address these challenges head on.”
On behalf of the City of Edmonton, host city for the historic event, Mayor Iveson offered the following comment, “Edmonton has long been a gathering place for Indigenous peoples so we are proud to host this National Gathering of Elders in our city,” said Mayor Don Iveson, “Elders are essential links to Indigenous knowledge, traditions and culture and honouring their roles as teachers will help Indigenous communities nurture their cultural identities. This event will continue our journey towards reconciliation and understanding of our shared history.”
The 2017 National Gathering of Elders was the vision of Chief Rupert Meneen, Tallcree Tribal Government and Grand Chief of Treaty 8 First Nations (Alberta), and is the culmination of twelve months of planning, spearheaded by a National Gathering of Elders Advisory Council and a core group of organizers from each of the Indigenous Groups.
Alberta Native News writer John Copley attended this event and provided the photos. Watch for a full article from him in the upcoming print edition of Alberta Native News.