Historic gathering in Winnipeg brings Canada’s Indigenous Elders together

‘Knowledge keepers’ seek to promote greater awareness and understanding of social and cultural issues

They came from all parts of Canada, 5,000 strong, to share stories, knowledge and ideas, to celebrate accomplishments and progress, to promote healing and the preservation of Indigenous heritage, language and culture.

The occasion was the National Gathering of Elders, held this year at Winnipeg’s Assiniboia Downs from Sept. 9-12 and hosted by nearby Peguis First Nation.

The historic, four-day event marked only the second time in history that First Nations, Métis and Inuit Elders were brought together at one time, in one location—the first was two years ago near Edmonton.

“Given that Winnipeg’s central in Canada, we felt it would be good to host and accommodate them,” explains Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson. “With all of the issues that have gone on surrounding our Elders, we wanted to promote healing as part of the residential schools issue and many other things.”

The Chief played an active role during the event, including delivering a speech at the opening ceremonies, which began with a colorful Grand Entry. About 380 Elders from Peguis participated, including two were heavily involved as organizers—band member Mike Sutherland and Elder Grant Manningway.

“For our Elders to come together and share their knowledge and life skills was very important,” Manningway says. “A lot of people who’d gone through the residential schools met each other and there were some who met a brother or sister they didn’t even know were alive. That meant a lot to me.”

“It was a beautiful celebration of Indigenous culture and respect for the Elders – very meaningful for those who took part,” says Jeff Yanko, a Senior Community Engagement Advisor with Enbridge, a major event sponsor.

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“Enbridge regularly interacts with more than 200 Indigenous communities in Canada, so this was a good opportunity to show our support and respect for Indigenous culture and to continue to build on the positive relationships we’ve established in our operations across North America, including the Line 3 project.”

“I want to give thanks to Enbridge for sponsoring the event,” Chief Hudson says.” I think it’s an important initiative for us as First Nations and Tribal people but also with respect to their commitment to communities. It was a very successful gathering and we heard nothing but good stories from the Elders about how thankful they were.”

Elders discussed a range of topics during the Gathering, including focused sessions on critical issues such as Reconciliation and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

These facilitated discussions are very important, Chief Hudson says, “because we want to build that understanding and awareness among society as to why this happening but also to look at doing some follow-up in terms of things that we can do differently, as First Nations, to help to promote that understanding.”

Elders, “the knowledge keepers” of their communities, play an important role in helping to bring about that understanding with the next generation, the Chief says.

“We Elders need to stick together and help others understand that we’re not going away,” Manningway adds. “What we share we also need to share with non-First Nations people so we can develop a better understanding. We must learn to work together in order to make things better in life going forward—if we don’t, it’s our own worst enemy not being heard.”

(TOP PHOTO: Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson speaks to Elders from across Canada at the opening ceremonies.)