Gala ceremonies featuring traditional dancers, singers and drummers opened the 36th annual B.C. Elders Gathering at the Tradex facility in Abbotsford on Tuesday afternoon (July 10).
The event attracted more than 3,000 people to see the traditional opening procession, as well as speeches from dignitaries, including B.C. Lt.-Gov. Steven Point and First Nation leaders.
Point, who served as an elected chief of the Skowkale First Nation for 15 years, had a hopeful message for the crowd.
"Aboriginal people, over the last 150 years, have suffered many, many things ... but today, in 2012, I'm asking people to put their focus and their minds and their thoughts forward for the future ... We need to liberate ourselves from the oppression of the past."
Also among those providing opening remarks were Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird and elder Ruth Adams.
Baird said elders have "paved the way for the younger generation to be able to do what we do."
Adams said many elders have experienced struggles in the past.
"We have a lot of hope for the future," she said.
The gathering continued July 11 and 12. It was hosted by Tsawwassen First Nation and Sto:lo Communities, and is the second consecutive year that the event has been held in Abbotsford.
The Elders Gathering takes place in B.C. each year and is hosted by different First Nation communities.
The purpose is for elders to share their traditional ways with visiting cultural and linguistic groups through song, dance and ceremonies.
It is a time for them to celebrate their accomplishments, socialize and regenerate themselves for future work.
Alwin Benson, a carver who had a booth in the vendor portion of the gathering, said it's important that elders be honoured.
"They have wisdom that's been passed down from generation to generation, so when we speak about elders, we have much respect for them because they have many stories they can pass on."
The event drew participants from dozens of First Nation cultures across the province. In addition to connecting with one another, they attended meetings, workshops and other activities.
For more information, visit 36theldersgathering.com.