The Port Alberni Friendship Centre will welcome more than 1,000 youth delegates and support workers to the annual Gathering Our Voices event on March 19 through 24. Gathering Our Voices 2019 will take place on the traditional territories of Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations.
GOV is an Indigenous Youth Leadership training program organized by the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, and the event attracts Indigenous youth from 14 to 24, although most delegates are from the 14-18 pool. Crystal Little is the GOV coordinator for the local Friendship Centre.
“This is my first year working with GOV, and being a part of it,” Little told Ha-Shilth-Sa, noting that the enthusiasm for the event is strong province-wide. “When they opened the registration, it was closed within 15 minutes. The youth, generally, return every year. They save up all year to come… they are very motivated, and they do a lot of workshops.”
For the young people, the emphasis is on strengthening the connection to their culture. There will be drum-making and paddle-making and painting, “But they also go into things like photography, and they are going to be doing a mural.
“There will be all sorts of different workshops, and there will be an Elder’s Room – the workshops will be based around language and culture,” Little said.
The program also offers delegates a trip to Tofino for a day of surfing.
“I imagine that one is going to fill up pretty quickly,” Little said.
She added that connecting with culture is a strengthening exercise for Indigenous youth.
“They do go around the schools here, and they do lahal,” Little said. “I’ve seen some of those workshops. It is coming back to life, and I’ve seen even the shyest of kids come out of their shell, participating in lahal. So it’s going to be a really exciting time in Port Alberni… it is proof that the culture is coming back – it has not been lost.”
The Provincial Aboriginal Youth Council is a co-sponsor and delegates come mainly from Friendship Centres across B.C. Some attendees, however, come from communities with no cultural supports, and some are in care. Along with the youth delegates, GOV will also bring in chaperones and support staff, elders, speakers, entertainment and volunteers.
While the event is geared towards Indigenous youth, participants are not asked for proof of Aboriginal status, according to BCAAFC. While there is not a mandate to include non-Indigenous youth in the GOV activities, organizers always welcome volunteers from 16 to 18 to help out. Duties include venue set-up and clean-up, assisting with elders, supervising workshops, crowd management, security, serving food, etc.
BCAAFC is providing orientation sessions for volunteers, and as a bonus, they are also offering free First Aid training. Orientation sessions take place at the Best Western Barclay (4277 Stamp Ave.) from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on March 16, and from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on March 17.
“We are calling on people to volunteer, even if it’s just for four hours on one day,” Little said. “People can call me at 250-730-0781.”