The above image is from the 2010 Elders’ Gathering.
On Jan. 31, and Feb. 1, Trent’s First People’s House of Learning will be hosting the 38th annual Elders’ Gathering.
“This year during the Gathering, we have a book launch and a keynote speaker,” said Cultural Adviser and Counsellor at the First People’s House of Learning, Jill Thompson. The event will include 13 Elders, offering students the opportunity to learn from Métis, Cree, Haudenosaunee, Mohawk, Anishnaabek, and Algonquian Elders.
“It’s a long standing tradition so it’s become really well-known throughout the community and local First Nations,” explained Thompson, noting that many people travel from all across Ontario and even come in out of province specifically for the event. “It started as a way to bring as much indigenous knowledge to the students of Trent as we could.”
This year, the overall theme of the Gathering is ‘Creating Change,’ said Thompson. “Since the Idle No More movement, we’ve had a lot of students asking ‘where do we go from here?’ And so, the Elders will talk about those issues.”
The opening ceremony takes place on Friday, Jan. 31, at 4pm. The ceremony will serve to introduce and welcome Chief Phyllis Williams of the Curve Lake First Nation, the President and Vice-President of Trent, the Dean of Gzowski, and the Chair of Indigenous Studies, and will also feature a large drum group.
This will then be followed by the Gathering’s ‘Creating Change’ panel of Elders, along with two students from the Trent University Native Association (TUNA).
“Then, there will be a special dinner for Elders only, which will wrap up at 6:30pm,” added Thompson.
Saturday, Feb. 1, will begin with a Sunrise Ceremony in the tipi at around 6:30am. “We’ll have a storyteller, Alan Brant, who is from Tyendinaga, a Mohawk community near Belleville,” Thompson reported.
The Gathering will then start at 9am with a performance by the TUNA drum group. Elders’ sessions will run from 9:30am to 11:30am. “Each elder has their own topic … and it’s all related to creating change,” said Thompson.
A break for lunch will follow, and then the Gathering will host a talk by keynote speaker Shelagh Rogers from 1pm to 2pm.
At 2:15pm, workshops will resume with Elders’ sessions, running until 4:30pm.
During the afternoon, there will also be more storytelling in the tipi along with bannock-making and Cree cooking by Trent student Beverly Cox. “She’s preparing the geese for the feast,” Thompson explained.
“During the sessions, TUNA is having their own session on Haudenosaunee dance,” remarked Thompson. This special session will be headed by faculty member Skahendowaneh Swamp. They will then perform on Saturday night at the social.
The book launch on the life of Joe Couture—the man who originally started the Elders’ Gathering—will happen at 5pm. He has passed away, but his wife will be there to promote the book.
“There will be a big feast at 6pm [which is] open to everybody,” said Thompson, and continued, “At 7pm, TUNA will host a Haudenosaunee drum social until 9 or 10pm.”
All events – with the exception of those held in the tipi – take place throughout the bottom floor of Gzowski. The events will be held in various classrooms as well as in the Gathering Space, so just show up and you’ll be directed the right way!
“Admission is free. [Students] can come at any time … it’s open to come as you please,” Thompson informed. As far as student participation, she said, “We’d like them to just come and participate in the workshops.”
While there are volunteer opportunities for those interested, she remarked, “I don’t want to put all the students to work. I’d like as many as possible to come and enjoy the teachings of the Elders.
“The new generations coming up need to learn from them because they are the knowledge holders … It’s important to have an event like this to honour the knowledge, culture, traditions, and languages of as many Elders as possible before that knowledge is lost.”
For more information, you can contact Thompson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 705-748-1011, ext. 7072. You can also check out the First People’s House of Learning on Facebook or at trentu.ca/fphl.
“It’s important to bring awareness to indigenous issues,” emphasized Thompson. “And it’s just a way of bringing all that knowledge together in one place. It’s important to celebrate our culture and it’s important to acknowledge all different nations.”