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35th Annual Elders Gathering

500 people from across the nation come together to celebrate Indigenous knowledge

35th Annual Elders Gathering
35th Annual Elders Gathering

Trent University celebrated the 35th annual Elders and Traditional Peoples Gathering at the First Peoples House of Learning at Symons Campus in Peterborough on February 12 and 13, 2012.

Trent students were well represented among the 500 attendees at the gathering. “This is a unique event – a unique opportunity to access a diverse base of knowledge,” said Jenna Cameron, who was there with her student group Red Alliances Media. The group will be posting footage of some of the presenters in the coming weeks. “We believe in creating space for discussions on politics, art, First Nations representation, and traditional knowledge,” she added. 

The plenary speaker was Trent University chancellor, Dr. Tom Jackson, native rights activist, who gave a passionate presentation about the importance of love. He also turned to the somber topic of Attawapiskat. 

“I promised people I would talk about this,” he said. “It is something we are all talking about -- concerned about.” 

For Chancellor Jackson, it is important to focus on the people of the ailing First Nation. “We need to separate the villains from the victims,” he suggested. “It is important for us to understand, if we are to move forward, that, yes, there are villains. But the most important thing to remember – in our world – is that there are victims. The victim, in this case, is the child. The victim is our future. Those children are our future. And you, the audience are our future. You are our protectors. You are the stewards – the guardians.”

While the anniversary mood was celebratory, there remained a certain level of worry and unease over the continuing crisis surrounding the Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario. Many of the speakers at the gathering touched on the issue, and it remained a major discussion point throughout the weekend. Students were directly exposed to some serious discussions about the challenges they will face in the future, with a diverse gathering of academics and community members. 

“This has been a tremendous gathering,” exclaimed Emerance Baker, new director of the First Peoples House of Learning at Trent. “We have Elders from across the country in attendance – including a few of the people who were instrumental in starting this gathering 35 years ago. I can’t count the number of attendees who have approached me and said that it is absolutely amazing to have such a diverse group under one roof.” 

Ms. Baker spoke of the power that comes with bringing people together. 

“This is good medicine,” she explained. “People talk about medicine. They think it comes from a plant only, but there is so much more to it than that. Good medicine can come from our emotions; it can come from spending time together. It can come from a sense of wellness, a sense of being positively represented. And being able to walk down a hallway and see, not just one native face, but hundreds of them? This is a blessing. This is a gift.  This is good medicine.” 

The Elders Gathering is a yearly gathering of elders and traditional people and those who are interested in Indigenous knowledge. It is held every year on the weekend preceding the winter reading break. It consists of teaching workshops, feasts, singing and dancing. All students and community members are welcome.

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2012.

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