Traditions were passed down through the generations at Abbotsford’s Tradex during this week’s 35th annual Elders Gathering.
The event, which started on Tuesday and celebrates its final day today, was open to anyone this year – a first, as it is usually only attended by senior members of the community.
Returning to the tribal grounds of the Sto:lo Nation in Abbotsford, the gathering is a way of preserving common heritage and traditions of First Nations.
One of those traditions is dance, which filled the main stage numerous times during the event.
On Tuesday afternoon, Lt. Governor of B.C. Steven Point and his wife Gwendolyn, watched as three groups of dancers took to the stage to entertain a large audience.
Matsqui, Sema:th and Leqa:mel Children’s Dance Group was first, performing to the beat of six drums and deep vocals.
Two rows of young boys dressed in black cloaks and headbands paddled their way forward, emulating a canoe. In the middle, a few young girls wearing skirts made welcoming gestures to the crowd.
The dance was meant to symbolize how everything is handed down by grandmothers and mothers, said one of the singers.
The men are protecting the women and taking them where they need to be, while the women are welcoming new people to the territory.
The Sasquatch Dancers and Semoya Dancers followed with colourful acts that included all ages.
Kelsey Charlie, whose native name is Tixweltel, said the performances are a way to teach the next generation.
“It’s about being proud of who you are and proud of where you come from,” said Charlie. “It’s about what we’re connected to through the blood lines and passing it down through the generations.”
Charlie, who played the drum and sang throughout Tuesday’s dances, added it’s especially empowering to see the young kids dancing.
It’s an aspect of the culture that he shied away from when he was about 12, after noticing that his non-native friends weren’t doing it. He felt ashamed.
“But now – it puts a smile on my face to see the kids doing it and being proud. They’re growing up with it and they’re not shy. It makes an even bigger impression on the elders… It makes us all feel good.”
The gathering also featured kiosks selling items such turquoise and silver jewelry, paintings, woven clothing and cedar boxes.
Workshops were held on financial management and elder abuse, and there were also scheduled tours of the Sto:lo territory and dancing and singing at the Sumas Longhouse.www.35theldersgathering.com.