Edmonton to host first-ever national gathering of Indigenous elders

Thousands of Indigenous elders will be meeting in Edmonton in September in a first-of-its-kind gathering in Canada.

Thousands of elders expected to attend historic September event

Indigenous leaders and government officials bow their heads as an elder gives an opening prayer at the announcement Wednesday. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Edmonton will host a historic gathering of elders from Indigneous nations across the country in September.

For the first time, First Nations, Métis and Inuit elders representing more than 600 organizations across Canada have been invited to get together to share ideas and learn from one another.

"Elders are the ones that we seek guidance from," said Treaty 8 Grand Chief Rupert Meneen. Treaty 8 stretches across northern Alberta and includes parts of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the southwest portion of the Northwest Territories.

Meneen said the gathering is long overdue and will give Indigenous youth a chance to learn about culture, traditions and history in a setting where they can share some laughs and make friendships.

He estimates as many as 4,000 elders could be at the gathering.

"People will be able to speak with the elders, see what their thoughts are on moving forward," he told reporters Wednesday.

Treaty 8 Grand Chief Rupert Meneen said the national gathering in Edmonton will provide a way for people to honour and learn from elders from across Canada. (Sam Martin/CBC)

The event will include forums on some key issues such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, climate change and preserving Indigenous languages and culture.

It's no coincidence the event is happening in the year of Canada's 150th birthday.   

"We're looking at the next 150 years as being a positive in how we can pull ourselves up and be able to create a better life for everybody," Meneen said.

Métis leaders said they are thrilled to be part of the gathering.

"Although the Métis people of the settlements are separated on the map, together we are a family with strong Indigenous roots," Gerald Cunningham of the Métis Settlements General Council said in a news release.

He said though each of the more than 1,000 Indigenous communities is unique, one common theme is respect for elders who hold the knowledge.

Atsinak Bishop, from the Edmonton Inuit Society, said she's also pleased to be involved in adding the voice of the Inuit to the gathering.

Mayor Don Iveson said Edmonton is a natural host city given it's been a gathering place for Indigenous people for thousands of years.

The Alberta government is providing $100,000 to support the event, which will be held at the Edmonton Expo Centre Sept. 11 to 14.