B.C. First Nations elders gather on the Saanich Peninsula

39th Elders Gathering sees thousands of aboriginal communities represented through their elders.

Elders Gathering King and Queen Doug and Kathy LaFortune (form left) join Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation and Rebecca Harris of the Pauquachin First Nation greet elders from across the province during the grand entry on July 7.

Hand held aloft in traditional greeting, the King and Queen welcomed an estimated 2,500 elders to the WSANEC territory for the 39th Elders Gathering.

Doug and Kathy LaFortune are the Gathering’s royalty this year, representing the host nations of the Tseycum, Tsawout, Tsartlip and Pauquachin – all on the Saanich Peninsula. Chiefs Don Tom, Rebecca Harris, Harvey Underwood and Vern Jacks joined them on the main stage at Panorama Recreation Centre’s tennis facility to offer traditional greetings and help get the Elders Gathering started.

The event takes place over three days, starting today and continuing through July 9. The Elders Gathering is a celebration of First Nations elders from across the province. They are here to take part is a variety of workshops, health care activities and clinics, education, crafts and fitness. It’s also a large social gathering. Chair of the organizing committee Perry Lafortune has said for many of the elders, the event will be rolled into their summer vacation. He added there are excursions and activities planned for the elders, their families and caregivers through the Capital Region.

“We have to value our elders,” said Chief Vern Jacks (Tseycum) during the grand entry ceremony, “and talk to them with our hearts. To our visitors, First Nations and especially to those here who are non-First Nations, you have lots to learn from us. We really do respect one another.”

“It’s a great day to be alive,” said Chief Don Tom (Tsartlip), welcoming the thousands of elders and approximately 500 volunteers who will be working over the three days.

The arenas and parking area at Panorama Recreation Centre are filled to capacity with dining areas, First Nations arts and crafts displays and booths, a vendors area and a main hall (tennis facility) that will host a variety of speeches, events and entertainment in the evenings. Off site workshops takes place at Kelset School, across from Panorama.

Learn more about the 39th Elders Gathering and get a full program of events at bcelders2015.ca.