After a three-year hiatus, it has been announced that the 2023 BC Elder’s Gathering will take place Aug 14 – 16 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the suspension of the annual gathering for three years. The last BCEG was held in July 2019 at the Vancouver Convention Centre and was hosted by the BC Elders Communication Center Society (BCECCS).
Until recently, it was uncertain if the gathering would be held this year, as the BCECCS feared that not enough deposits would be made from participants to move the event forward. In recent years the society was burdened with $145,000 of debt from 2020, due to two sponsors pulling out their support a few months before the gathering was to take place.
“Even though we had incurred costs leading up to this cancellation, these entities pulled their $100,000 and $50,000 in support because the actual event didn't happen,” explained Donna Stirling of the BCECCS in a Ha-Shilth-Sa article from Nov. 15.
In their Elder’s Voice newsletter, the BCECCS say it stands as the default host when a suitable bidding host has not been named. It could be that there is no bidder or when there’s an issue with a bidder, such as a host location that is too small to accommodate the elders, the BCECCS will host the event.
In 2000 and 2017, the BCECCS hosted the event in its home community of Campbell River, but holding the gathering there is not a possibility this year.
“Campbell River no longer has a caterer large enough to handle the needs of such a large event and serve the elders needs properly, so it will not be back there,” explains the society in its newsletter.
For those reasons, the Vancouver Convention Centre is the society’s “go-to site of choice” when BCECCS hosts. Donna Stirling says she has been the coordinator of the event on behalf of BCECCS three times, including the last one in 2019.
“We will be at the Vancouver Convention Centre again as the elders’ five standing ovations at the 2019 AEG made it clear that they all want to come back to the same location in the lower mainland and that they want us to host the event again,” she said in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa.
But the location comes with a steep price, not only for the facility rental but also the food.
“It is approximately a million dollars to host this year and it starts with zero dollars every year,” states the Elder’s Voice newsletter.
Inflation has increased the cost of food, forcing a jump in registration fees. In 2019, the registration fee was $400 per person with an early-bird rate of $325. This year the registration fee is $550, which covers entry to the event and its various venues along with two catered lunches and dinners.
There will be no snacks and fruit at the 2023 gathering due to the prohibitive cost.
“We had to decide to cut both from the daily plan. We are not allowed to bring in outside food,” Stirling wrote in the newsletter.
She encourages the elders’ support people to pack snacks. There will be water stations set up throughout the venues.
In addition to the registration fee, elders would need to cover accommodation, travel, and breakfasts.
The BC Elder’s Gathering started 47 years ago. It provides an opportunity for Indigenous elders to get together with their peers from throughout the province.
“It allows them to intermingle with like-minded, like-aged individuals and their families, to reveal common grounds that strengthen those links,” writes Stirling.
“Elders Gatherings are a wonderful time for people to visit and exchange memories and knowledge, to create new friendships and to renew old ones. These gatherings provide a chance to gain perspective on how other First Nations live,” reads the BCEG website.
In general, the gathering is for Indigenous elders age 55 and up, but some nations sponsoring their elders to attend may set another age.
“Some are set at 60 and some at 65…that is up to the individual bands,” writes Stirling. “I was told in 1999 that the age for the gathering was 55 and up and that is what we have always gone by.”
“The theme for the 2023 BCEG is 'Stronger Together' and though it will be difficult to start this event from scratch after missing three years, we are committed to providing the best Elders Gathering the elders have ever been to,” added Stirling.
A registration fee of $550 per person must be paid by July 10 through cheque or money order – no e-transfers or credit cards will be accepted. There will be no on-site registration and there is no early-bird rate. The 20 groups that signed up in the early bird registration for the 2020 BCEG that was cancelled did not receive refunds. These groups are the only ones that get early bird rates, which have been pre-paid.
Attendees will take part in a grand entrance on Aug. 15 and will enjoy access to presentations, games, dances, workshops, self-care services and a variety of vendors. The host notes that the Pamper Me Centre is for the elders only and ask that support people not to sign up for services.
Elders and their support workers are reminded to book rooms early and to register as soon as possible because these funds are required to pay deposits needed to run the event.
Children are not invited to the gathering due to limited space. Group leaders are asked not to bring elders if they are ill. Only those registered will be allowed into the space.
“So, the BC Elders Communication Center Society is the host for 2023 and we look forward to welcoming everyone August 14 for early registration and August 15-16, 2023, for the AEG (Annual Elder’s Gathering),” said Donna Stirling.