Indigenous Leaders Gathering focuses on "Protecting the Sacred"

St'at'imc welcome visitors from Canada, USA, Nigeria and Peru

Visitors from around the world are expected in town this week as the St'at'imc Chiefs host the 4th Annual Indigenous Leadership Gathering at T'it'q'et.

The Gathering will be held June 21 to 24 at Julianne Hall and at the nearby outdoor arbor.

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Coordinator Darrell Bob told the News it's difficult to estimate how many people will be attending.

"Last year, on the peak day we cooked for 2,000 people," said Bob. "Attendance has been doubling every year."

The theme of this year's event is "Protecting the Sacred." It will focus on four critical issues:

Sacred Knowledge - embracing the guidance of ancestors and elders to live in balance

Sacred Lands - respecting the rhythms and warnings of Mother Earth to choose wisely

Sacred Children - nurturing youth, both near and far

Sacred Generations - providing for future generations, the grandchildren and all humanity.

Speakers at the Gathering include priestess and dancer MaObong Oku from the Efik Tribe, or Water People, in Nigeria; restoration and ethno-ecologist Dennis Martinez, a recipient of the EcoTrust-Buffett award for Indigenous Conservation Leadership; hereditary chief and community development leader Phil Lane Jr. from the Yankton Dakota and Chickasaw First Nations; Dr. Lee Brown, coordinator of the Indigenous Doctoral Program in the Department of Educational Studies at UBC; Rene Franco Salas from Peru, who shares ancestral Andean values through music and life lived with humility, respect and gratitude; and Herb Hammond, a professional forester and forest ecologist who develops and applies eco-system-based conservation planning.

Cree leader Alex Ahenakew and BC Lieutenant Governor Steven Point are scheduled to speak tomorrow afternoon.

There will be presentations on the potential impacts of the Enbridge pipeline, and the documentary film "Black Water, White Gold" will be screened. Tribal Chair Chief Garry John said the Gathering will also focus on water as a critical and sacred element for life.

Each day, the Gathering will begin with a sunrise ceremony, elders prayers and welcome songs. Chiefs Shelly Leech and Kevin Whitney will also welcome people each day to T'it'q'et Territory. The sessions will be chaired by MC Chief Garry John. Other St'at'imc leaders who will speak at the Gathering include Xaxli'p Chief Art Adolph and Kukpi7 Mike Leach.

Chief John told the News organizing the event is a huge undertaking. "People try to take a couple weeks or a month off before they start gearing up again for the next year's Gathering."

He said he enjoys the "diversity of the people encountered" over the four days of the Gathering. In addition to the international leaders who speak, he said St'at'imc elders are "very diligent" about listening to the speakers.

"There are the hippies - we call them the 'lost tribe' - who flood in to attend the Gathering," said John. "They set up the composting piles, they're very diligent about the garbage. And T'it'q'et has done a lot to make sure there's drinkable water on site. We want it to be a water-bottle free zone."

The home page for the Gathering states, "Indigenous peoples are facing rapid cultural loss due to aggressive assimilation policies that are still underway. At the same time, the remaining elders are still passing on. Continent to continent, the teachings that have guided countless generations, rooting the children and connecting the youth, are at risk."

The statement continues, "Recognizing this crossroads, the elders across many indigenous cultures have warned that we must act now to safeguard the teachings. Governments call these teachings 'traditional knowledge'; however, it is sacred knowledge, sacred life relationships connecting us all in the circle of life."

The Gathering is free and meals are included. People who plan to attend are asked to bring their own camping gear and supplies, blankets, plates, cutlery and cooking gear (if possible).

People are asked to respect all cultures, dress respectfully and, because this is a family event, observe the rule that no drugs or alcohol are allowed.

Donations of food and cash to support the Gathering are gratefully accepted. The St'at'imc Chiefs Council will provide individuals or organizations who make a financial donation with a charitable society number for Canadian taxation purposes.

"We will host and feed you to the best of our ability," the St'at'imc Chiefs have said. "We ask in turn that you look after the land you walk on."

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