Nearly 30 youth from local First Nation communities traveled to Port Alberni to attend Gathering our Voices (GOV) hosted on Tseshaht and Hupaasath traditional territory from March 19-24, 2019.
GOV is an Indigenous youth leadership training program put on by B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) every year.
“The youth were able to pick different workshops that sparked their interest,” youth director at Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre Jenna Hanrath said. “A lot of them did outdoor recreation activities, harm reduction, and opportunity to participate in the career fair. They had everything there from police force, doctors, job fairs, a lot of different universities were there, health professions, information on health and wellness as well as basically everything that you think could be a good resource for teenagers and young adults growing up.”
The program is meant to strengthen the youth’s ties and connection to their culture with workshops like drum-making, paddle-making, painting, and even pow-wow zumba. Keynote speakers addressed stigma and possible prejudice toward urban Aboriginals or those who do not live on-reserve. Other workshops included harm reduction, healthy living, education, career training, language and cultural connection to the lands, which many of the local youths attended.
“It was great to see the youth so involved, just being proud to be Indigenous and have this open space where people can just be free,” Hanrath continued. She noted there were many delegates from not only across the province, but some from Ontario and Saskatchewan as well.
Over 100 workshops were offered this year, which focused on Indigenous topics and areas, noted the GOV information release. Likely the most popular part of the event, the talent show, had illustrated the connectedness between youth and communities, having showcased their support for one another. The amount of energy and support for each other was remarkable, she also mentioned.
“They also had really good support systems too which included cedar brushings, Elder’s support, and workshops welcoming drop-ins” where many could make medicine bags and other traditional crafts, she noted.
One local youth was recently elected to BCAAFC’s Provincial Aboriginal Youth Council, which plays a “huge role” in helping organize GOV, 19 year old Diana Charlie said. Charlie was elected last November to the council.
Charlie, who is from Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation, also said that during this year’s GOV she was involved in selecting the winning recipient of what is known as the Honour Indigenous Youth award. She was also the one to hand the award out.
“It’s awesome to honour our youth and recognize that they’re doing a good job,” Charlie said. “We need to recognize our youth in the community, to acknowledge them.”
The association has co-sponsored 16 GOVs in the past, which has grown immensely due to delegates, volunteers, chaperones, facilitators and host communities continued support. For example, when registration opened last summer the spots were filled within minutes. As for next year’s event, GOV is planned to take place in Kamloops.
According to BCAAFC over 2000 delegates attended this year’s GOV, but the association anticipates the event to grow even more as they continue to co-sponsor future GOVs. Sacred Wolf Friendship Centre would like to extend a thank-you to Cape Scott Wind LP and the New Relationship Trust (NRT), an independent non-profit organization which is dedicated to strengthening capacity building in First Nation communities. Cape Scott Wind LP and NRT each provided a $2,000 grant for SWFC, making it possible for local Indigenous youth to attend this year’s GOV.
– Thomas Kervin article