Representatives from 623 indigenous groups, or an estimated crowd of up to 4,000, are expected to attend the gathering Sept. 11-14 at the Edmonton Expo Centre.Ten Alberta indigenous groups are working together on the event, and have invited leaders from 623 First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities to participate in the gathering, which will provide an opportunity to discuss issues like reconciliation and climate change and learn about other indigenous cultures and histories.
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Rupert Meneen is one of the people behind the gathering and said it was inspired by talks with counterparts in British Columbia.
“We think it’s important that we try and preserve the knowledge of First Nations people,” Meneen said. In addition to sharing knowledge, the elders will discuss the importance of indigenous language and culture. The event is expected to attract 3,000 to 4,000 delegates.
“We’re going to ask (the elders) ‘What are you hoping to get out of this?’ What can we as chiefs take from this, and elders, what do you need to say? Because sometimes we don’t include our elders in our conversations and I think we definitely need to listen to them,” Meneen sad.
He noted that the event is timely, landing shortly after Canada’s 150th anniversary, and is open to the public.
“We are not going to shut the door to anybody,” Meneen said.
Alberta’s Minister of Indigenous Relations, Richard Feehan, said the event was a crucial opportunity for Canadians to recognize the importance of indigenous history, culture and language in Canada.
“There’s absolutely no denying that the wisdom, life experience and knowledge the elders bring is very important for our country to create meaningful and lasting generational change,” Feehan said. “This opportunity really gives us a chance … to have the elders come together, share their ideas and pass on those ideas to the youth who will be there in attendance,” he added.
“We also hope to be involved in the process of building the dialogue, the conversation, and the work that needs to happen to make this truly a meaningful event,” Feehan said. Organizers want as many voices as possible represented.
Gerald Cunningham, president of the Metis Settlements General Council, said that while there are more than 1,000 unique Aboriginal communities across Canada, they also have much in common.
“We are also the same in so many ways … One of those common themes is the respect we have for our elders and the important part they play in keeping our history, safeguarding our culture, passing on our language and mentoring our youth,” he said.