Friday, July 11, 2008

A memorable celebration

The local organizers of the 32nd Elders Gathering in Prince Rupert have been lauded for their hard work and determination in making the recently ended three days of celebration an unqualified success.

As the Gathering came to an end on Wednesday with a five hour farewell. many paid tribute to the local organizers who worked long hours prior to Monday and many extra hours over the last three days to bring together their long planned dream.

The Daily News captured the spirit of the closing ceremonies with a front page story in Thursday's paper.

Local organizers are lauded for putting together memorable celebration
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Pages one and two

After three days of celebration, the 32nd Elders Gathering came to a close yesterday during a five-hour farewell that honoured all who had come together and made the gathering such a resounding success.

There were many thank-yous and acknowledgements to be given out during Wednesday's farewell, and Elders Coordinator Darlene Harris Wolfe and her 'relief helper' Inez Shanoss had the honour of addressing the arena and handing out praise to numerous individuals who made the conference possible.

From the many teenage volunteers of the Friendship House Street Spirit team to King and Queen Leonard and Mona Alexcee, Wolfe was sure not to miss a single person who donated their time, money or spirit to the Prince Rupert gathering, and she handed out gifts to various important people.

Among those given special thanks were George Sampson and Louisa Sanchez, who in addition to Wolfe and Shanoss, gave a whole lot of themselves in past months whenever and wherever they were needed.

Sanchez said she felt it was a great event that everyone can be proud of, thanked all the elders for coming to Prince Rupert and partaking, and lastly reminded those who would be hosting next year's gathering to begin planning immediately.

Sampson echoed Sanchez's sentiments, and remarked how appropriate it was that the Alexcees were crowned King and Queen 50 years after they helped establish Friendship House in Prince Rupert.

Many others were given special thanks, including Elder Betty Hill and North Coast MLA Gary Coons, and later in the day representatives from Port Alberni took the stage to thank the Kaien Island Elders for hosting the event.

For the most part, it was a day of joy, but there was also mourning because it was announced that an Elder from Port Fraser passed away Tuesday night. In honour of her, the family members were recognized at the front of the stage by everyone gathered, and respects were paid through handshakes, kind words and even song.

Following the impromptu ceremony, many spirits were lifted when it was announced that the Nisga'a had successfully bid to host the 33rd Elders Gathering which will take place in Terrace next year.

The Alexcees passed on the symbolic paddle and totem pole to Nisga'a representatives, and gave the next King and Queen, Melvin and Rose Robinson, gifts of their own; two wooden canoe paddles made by senior students of Roosevelt Park Community School.

"When we first started our journey, we went to Kitsumkalum and they said they would support us. Then we went to Hartley Bay, and they too said they would support us," said Leonard Alexcee.

"We had decided when we bid on this last year that we wouldn't use email, we would go and knock on people's doors and invited them. And that's what we did.

"Next we went to Kitkatla, and like all the communities we asked, they supported us. I'd like to thank all the Elders who stood behind us this whole conference, you are all wonderful. And our congratulations to next year's King and Queen. May you reign with honour."

By yesterday evening, as the many volunteers continued working tirelessly to disassemble the civic centre, Wolfe was breathing a sigh of relief.

With only minor glitches, the three days had gone over very well and she was already receiving feedback about how fantastic the gathering had been.

"The first day we couldn't find any of the name tags for people who registered, so they all were made by hand. And the first day, we kind of ran out of food for lunch, but the restaurants in town just came right up and helped us and we had food within half an hour," said Wolfe. "When I started working in December, I sent out letters everywhere in Prince Rupert and all the way to Vancouver, and we had such great support from everyone. Even some government agencies stepped up and helped us financially. It was really uplifting the way it all worked out, and the way the committee members and volunteers stepped up."

One such contribution was from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, which doubled their annual contribution to the First Nations Elders Gathering from $25,000 to $50,000 - which helped make the three days even more memorable for the more than 3,000 Elders who made the trip to Prince Rupert this year.

Funding from government agencies will no doubt help the Nisga'a as they begin planning for the 2009 Elders Gathering, but what may prove even more beneficial to future organizers is a detailed binder Wolfe put together outlining information on grants, key contact people, and anything else she thought would be helpful to a coordinator like herself.

"So they don't have to reinvent the wheel, I included all the problems I went through and endured, the glitches that went on, the addresses where people can apply for funding," said Wolfe. "I told [the Nisga'a] when they are ready, to call me, and I'll come up and have a meeting with their committee, hand over the binder and all that information, and let them know I'm available whenever they want. And there are four Nations working together on this next one, so they should be able to organize it well."

Another Rupertite who was involved throughout the organizing process, and was at the forefront of nearly the entire gathering was Kaien Island Elder Murray Smith. He was given the honour of acting as Master of Ceremonies, and indeed lived up to everyone's expectations.

Smith led the event with both a jovial and charismatic spirit, but also a solemn and heartfelt presence when the situation called for it. By Wednesday evening, much like Wolfe he was glowing with the satisfaction of a job well done.

"It went way past my expectations. All the people who came here from great distances, the enthusiasm of the volunteers, the speakers we heard from, the dancers, the people who donated food, time and transportation. It was all so successful, and I felt the spirit that I haven't felt in a long time," he said.

"Unfortunately we had a death, but we still honoured that. Our people haven't lost our culture that bad that we forget to honour that.

"Overall, the efforts of everyone, especially Leonard and Mona who did a wonderful job of holding everything together, reminding us not to forget protocol, and steering us back on track when we needed it. It was a very humbling experience to be the MC up there.

"Next year it will be with our neighbours in Terrace, and I congratulate them. Us Elders will be there, but we'll be resting."

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