Gathering Our Voices 2011 Aboriginal Youth Conference was held in Prince Rupert last week and ended on Friday.
Over 1,000 Aboriginal youth from around BC and Canada attended the four-day conference. The conference had many different events such as a dance, a talent show, an afternoon show display of traditional dancing and plenty of workshops.
Lucy Heffernan and Nakkita Trimble are members of the Prince Rupert Friendship House, they attended the conference and say it was an amazing experience.
“It’s one of the largest national Aboriginal youth conferences in Canada and to have it at home in Prince Rupert was the most amazing thing,” says Heffernan.
Several VIPs came to the conference, including Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Stephen L. Point; the Grand Chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Phillip Stewart; Miss Indian World 2010, Teyotsihstokwathe Dakota Brant and more.
The youth spent the majority of their time at the conference in workshops that centered around the issues and culture unique to their lives as young Aboriginal people. Many of the workshops were facilitated by people who had attended previous conferences when they were younger.
Many of the workshops were about introducing the youth to different aspects of their cultural heritage. There was a workshop for learning to kayak, another about reviving Aboriginal games and sports, there was a beginners introduction to drumming and one called “Elder’s Don’t Bite.”
That last one was Heffernan’s favourite.
“It was amazing, The provincial elders do so much for everyone. There’s so much wisdom that they need to share and, they’re so great. You know ‘hug an elder,’ they’re not scary to approach, they’re the best,” says Heffernan.
Many of the workshops were considerably more serious; facilitators had frank discussions with the youth about the issues in their home communities that are affecting Aboriginal youth all over Canada. In one workshop there was a no off-limits discussion about sexual safety and HIV prevention through both sex and syringe sharing. In another workshop one facilitator told a packed room the emotional story of his brother’s suicide. In the Lester Centre an actress stood on stage and told the youth that they need to follow their dreams even if it means that they might have to leave their community.
Farley Stewart is the executive director of the Prince Rupert Friendship House. He says conferences like these will help the kids face the problems they find in their communities.
“It’s about educating, but it’s also about providing options and opportunity. People know that we have a lot of our young people dying and a lot of people with health issues, I think part of these workshops is to educate. And we need to get educated,” says Stewart.
At the closing ceremonies representatives from the shoe company, Nike, officially announced their N7 project, which will provide grants to every Friendship House in the province to be used on athletic programs at those centres.