Chiefs talk to the elders
- Chiefs talk to the elders
Grand Chief Edward John gives a speech during the 37th annual BC Elders Gathering, Wednesday.
Alistair McINNIS/Free Press
By Alistair McInnis - Prince George Free Press
Published: July 12, 2013 9:00 AM
Updated: July 12, 2013 9:41 AM
Tl'azt'en Nation hereditary Chief Edward John learned a lot while he was growing up.
He stressed the role Carrier elders played in his upbringing. Wednesday morning at the 37th annual BC Elders Gathering, he pointed out five topics in particular that they always discussed.
Topping the list was their children.
"They talked about the children who are in care of government," John said during his dignitary speech at the Northern Sport Centre. "They wanted to make sure those kids went back to their communities, they wanted to make sure they fought for every child to make sure the children were not taken by the government and put into foster homes."
John noted that it's important elders stay connected with their children, that they aren't segregated so culture and traditions get carried on through generations.
That was only the start. John went on to discuss four other subjects: languages, education, water and unity.
Language plays an important role in maintaining culture. John stressed the crucial role First Nations play, noting that the first place to teach language is in the communities. He said he heard through the United Nations that one indigenous language is lost every two weeks, calling the long stretch from B.C. to California a hot spot.
As for education, First Nations need to only look at the success of John to see where it can lead. A lawyer for 30 years, John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Victoria, a law degree from UBC an an honorary Doctor of Law degree from UNBC. His education has helped him pursue social and economic justice for indigenous people in Canada.
John mentioned the importance First Nations played in establishment of the very institution in which the Elders Gathering was held. First Nations helped build UNBC towards its establishment in 1994, and band leaders have stressed the importance of a UNBC presence in their communities. John noted that every civilization needs higher learning to survive.
Water is crucial to survival. Organisms need it. John talked about the importance of environmental responsibility. As for unity, John had this to say: "We can't be strong if we stand by ourselves."
Working together and staying connected helps deliver a stronger message. John said they need to stand up their beliefs. While the Canadian constitution honours rights, the government needs to respect their rights. With it comes to pipeline exploration, dams development and other projects over First Nations land, John said they better come knocking on their doors.
John added that First Nations should be proud of who they are and where they came from.
"Our ways are as good as anybody else's ways."
John was among a group of First Nations leaders who gave speeches during this year's BC Elders Gathering. The theme for the 37th annual event was "Honour Your Journey." What made this year's event significant is that it's been 100 years since the Lheidli T'enneh was forced out of their village, in which now sits downtown Prince George, to their current reserve.
Preceding John on stage was Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, who's also served as Chief of the Penticton Indian Band. He gave praise to the elders for maintaining First Nations culture in the face of abuse in Canada.
"If it wasn't for our elders, who resisted the abuses of the residential school system, who resisted the ugly experiments on the part of the government of Canada, on other governments of this country, to obliterate, to absolutely obliterate indigenous languages, indigenous culture," Phillip said, "and thereby our traditions and teachings that tell us we have a duty and an obligation to protect the land, and everything that that represents for the sake of our children because it is their birthright."
Phillip encourages First Nations to attend the Walk for Reconciliation, Sept. 22 in Vancouver. The event wraps up Reconciliation Week Vancouver 2013.
"We are not only survivors, we are flourishing," he said. "As each day goes by, we are more and more empowered and we are more vibrant."
The Elders Gathering is held so elders can meet as advisors, teachers and leaders. The gatherings allow elders to share traditional ways, celebrate past accomplishments and look forward. Ceremonies, speeches, workshops and entertainment unfolded at the CN Centre and UNBC from Tuesday to Thursday.
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