Gathering Our Voices brings Aboriginal youth to Vancouver

Photo courtesy of the B.C. Government

Photo courtesy of the B.C. Government

The cultural artifacts you are bound to find on a visit to the Klahowya Village in Stanley Park are evidence of the historical presence and impact of Aboriginal communities in the Pacific Northwest. Gathering our Voices, a conference of Aboriginal youth held in Vancouver in March, brings together thousands of Aboriginal descendants who carry on this rich legacy and continue to make a cultural impact.

Sharing traditions and creating unity

Gathering our Voices addresses issues affecting young Aboriginals by cultivating a sense of unity within the community. More specifically, its aim is to create a social space for young Aboriginals to share their ideas and concerns through workshops, conference presentations, roundtable discussions, art and physical activities. The eleventh edition of this event will take place at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver and the Fairmount Vancouver, on the traditional territories of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tseil-waututh Nations. Close to 2000 Aboriginal youth will attend this year’s edition of the conference, along with invited speakers, activity coordinators and esteemed community members

Della Preston, lead conference coordinator at the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, explains that the mission every year is to improve the quality of life of young Aboriginals in the province.

“It’s a genuine opportunity for the youth to become informed, and a chance to take advantage of the social and economic resources that are available to them. The First Nations communities are often isolated from one another, and find themselves outside of the large cities in Canada. We’re hoping to give the youth a chance to form significant bonds,” says Preston.

The conference has not taken place in Vancouver since 2010 and hosting it in the largest metropolitan area in the province aims to promote the goals of inclusion and social awareness.

The fragmentation of Aboriginal culture

The conference responds to worries about whether Aboriginal communities will be defined by artifacts as opposed to their ongoing contributions to society and culture, and to related issues like social inclusion and adequate political representation for Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal language rights and support are one issue that conference attendees will discuss. The 2011census showed that more than 60 Aboriginal languages are spoken in Canada, with Cree, Inuktituk and Ojibway the most common. However, 50 of these languages are spoken by less than 3000 people and in danger of extinction according to UNESCO standards unless more documentation and support to promote their vitality takes place.

A chance to connect

Along with language, this year’s edition of the conference focuses on education, physical activity and financial literacy. Preston explains that the choice of topics reflects the present needs of the Aboriginal communities in British Columbia.

Preston explains that the conference is not focused on past and current events, but on the future. Each year, the conference gains more presence and its continuing success is a source of inspiration for young Aboriginals.

“Our focus is on giving the youth opportunities to network. What is most important is that they are able to share their experiences, and moreover, to develop friendships as a result of these shared experiences. It’s equally important that they receive the tools and guidance needed to succeed in school and in the professional lives,” she says.

Preston adds that putting on this event each year would not be possible without the support of both levels of government, and the hard work of their committed team of volunteers.

If you are inspired to lend a hand, sign up online: