Thousands of First Nations peoples arrived in Abbotsford Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the 36th annual Elders Gathering taking place at Tradex this week.
Lt.-Gov. Steven Point and his wife Gwendolyn were part of a contingent of elders, youths and invited dignitaries who passed through massive cedar doors, symbolic of a traditional long house, at Tradex during the opening ceremonies on Tuesday.
Thousands in the main hall shouted their approval and applauded as Point - a former chief of the Skowkale First Nation, tribal chair of the Sto: lo Nation government, and Grand Chief of the Sto:lo Tribal Council - said aboriginal people must seize the future and free themselves physically, mentally and spiritually from the grips of history.
"My dear people. We have to liberate ourselves from the oppression of the past," said Point.
"We need to take our place in society; we have a right to be there."
First Nations must move from the confines and poverty of reserves and take on leadership positions in society as a means to safeguard the aboriginal community's most important future resource - its youth.
"Maybe that means running for office as an MLA. Why not?" asked Point.
In response, many in the audience echoed the sentiment and shouted back, "Why not!"
The King and Queen of the 36th Elders Gathering "Mi: Mel Spath" Roger Andrews and "Ya Yuts Kii Ya" Audrey Kelly also were present at the ceremony with a host of regional, and provincial First Nations chiefs, as were Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman and area MLAs Mike de Jong and John van Dongen.
This year's Elders Gathering saw more than 2,500 aboriginal elders and even more invited guests come together at the convention centre and the Semath Long House until the event's end on Thursday.
The provincial Elders Gathering takes place annually and is hosted by different First Nation communities.
The Sto:lo people partnered with Tsawwassen First Nation to host the 2012 event.
The theme of this year is Letsemt, One Heart, One Mind, One Family.
It is the second year in a row that the event has taken place in Abbotsford.
The purpose of the gathering is for elders to come together and take their rightful place as advisors, teachers, and leaders, say organizers.
Many elders are involved at the community level through the year, participating at meetings, workshops and various events to support youth, education committees and band councils.
The annual meet gives them the chance to socialize and celebrate their accomplishments as well as regenerate themselves for future work.
It also allows elders to share traditional ways with visiting cultural and linguistic groups through song, dance and traditional ceremonies at the event.
King of the 36th Elders Gathering, "Mi: Mel Spath" Roger Andrews, noted that many, many young people attend the event, which transcends the boundaries of age.
"This is what the elders really love - to share their teachings with elders in training," said Andrews.
"Those can be any age. It's who has interest and love for culture and tradition."