The June 21-24 International Indigenous Leadership Gathering drew more than 900 people from across North America and around the world.
Summing up the four-day Gathering at T'it'q'et, St'at'imc Chiefs Council Chair Chief Garry John said, "The diversity of people we've seen at this gathering is absolutely amazing."
A total of 915 people registered for the celebration of sacred knowledge, lands, children and generations. Participants gathered in a circle beneath a log arbor to share messages, discussions and cultural presentations. Volunteers served meals to approximately 800 people a day.
Marie Barney, who coordinated the event on behalf of the T'it'q'et Community, said approximately 400 people camped out each evening on the nearby campground. She said an average of about 200 people per day were "passing through" the gathering, meaning about 600 of the participants were not from the immediate Lillooet area.
Many of the campers were drenched by Saturday night's fierce thunder and lightning storm. "We danced in the rain," Barney told the News. "One of the themes of the gathering was eco-systems and water, so we were blessed with water and we were cleansed."
Among the compelling speakers were Nigerian priestess and dancer MaObong Oku, lawyer Brenda Gaertner on the potential impacts of the Enbridge pipeline and BC Lieutenant-Governor Steven Point. A member of the Sto:lo First Nation from Chilliwack, the Lieutenant-Governor brought his own hand drum and began and closed his speech with a traditional song.
Point held the crowd in the palm of his hand during a 40-minute, off-the-cuff speech that combined gentle humour, recollections of personal experiences and thoughtful commentary on the role of spirituality in today's society.
He said people are not satisfied with the materialism in today's world. "People are struggling and stomping on each others' toes to get ahead in life and get ahead of the next guy. We're living in homes where you've got your own bedroom, where you've got your own closet, where you've got your name monogrammed on your towels and your underwear – "That's mine. Don't touch it,'" said Point. "This idea of collective living and collective ownership is something aboriginal people everywhere in the world understand. You walk into their house. You say 'I need that.' They say, "Well, it's yours.' We had no locks on our doors when the Europeans came. If you needed that, it was yours. I believe that our world is coming around to an understanding that we need change. And we need gatherings like this, that are focused not on the material world, but focused on the spiritual world."
Point added, "Everyday, the Creator gives you opportunities to learn lessons. Your job is to understand that these lessons exist, that they're there in the blade of grass that's growing, in these majestic mountains, in the elders that are sitting, listening and talking to you. Even the children, as they run by, have lessons to offer to you. We're so busy in this world, scrambling up the ladder, but at the end of your life, what have you learned? Because, my dear people, that's exactly what you're going to take with you to the other side, when you go over there."
On the Gathering's last day, Chief John said many people had asked him if there would be a fifth gathering next year. John said, "The general feeling is the gathering is going to continue."
The gathering in Lillooet was linked by livestream technology to the United Nations Rio-Plus-20 conference in Brazil on sustainable development, meaning participants at both gatherings could view the proceedings on the other continent.