Inaugural Aboriginal Youth and Educators Conference a Great Success

“The Strengthening Our Relations Conference was a dream come true for Selkirk College and I hope it is the first of many such gatherings to support our Aboriginal youth, their families, and the community,” says Selkirk College President Angus Graeme.

Opportunities for Educational and Cultural Growth

When Selkirk College staff and students first envisioned an Aboriginal Youth and Educators Conference that would take place on the grounds of the school’s Castlegar campus, their hope was to create an event that would promote opportunities for educational and cultural growth for Aboriginal learners from the West Kootenays and beyond.

The inaugural event, titled “Strengthening Our Relations”, took place from June 5th to 7th and was attended by over 80 participants from Kootenay Region First Nations including the Sinixt, Ktunaxa, Syilx, and Secwepemc as well as members of the Cree, Anishinabe, Nisga’a, Blackfeet and Métis Nations. The event was considered a tremendous success by those in attendance and marked a significant step forward in Selkirk’s capacity to facilitate a shared understanding of Indigenous cultures and identities.

The conference featured a wide range of activities, speakers and workshops, with participants utilizing the college’s Aboriginal Gathering Place as the cultural and spiritual hub of the event.

Strengthening Our Relations Conference Opening on June 5th, 2013 Photo
The Strengthening Our Relations Conference opening on June 5th, 2013.

An Unforgettable Experience

“After opening the Gathering Place in May 2012, we immediately started talking about the need to have a youth and educators conference to bring Aboriginal youth, educators, and Elders together to celebrate culture, traditions, relationship building, and learning,” says Selkirk College president Angus Graeme. “The Strengthening Our Relations Conference was a dream come true for Selkirk College and I hope it is the first of many such gatherings to support our Aboriginal youth, their families, and the community.”

The three-day event saw participants camp in tipis that were erected on campus and share many meals together. There was no shortage of activities, from poetry workshops to art displays and a video project.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Dr. Christopher Horsethief of the Ktunaxa Nation, who presented the latest research into the critical links between language and cultural survival and the use of social media to create a heightened sense of First Nations identity. Participants also heard from two Indian Residential School survivors who shared their experience and facilitated a circle talk.

"The Selkirk College community was very pleased to host this important event,” says Selkirk College Registrar Cathy Mercer. “We also appreciated the opportunity to participate in the learning and connecting that took place over the three days. There were many memorable moments.”

Strengthening Our Relations Conference Tipis Photo
Conference participants camped in tipis during the event.

Sharing, Learning and Respect

Youth, educators and Elders came together during the conference to participate in a panel that explored the importance of Indigenous languages in the creation of traditional cultures, and the 40+ students in attendance facilitated a sharing circle on the final day of the conference that focused on respecting Indigenous ways of knowing and the related impacts on their education experiences.

“It was the participants that made the Strengthening Our Relations conference so special,” says Jessica Morin, who played a key role in the planning of the event in her role as Selkirk’s Aboriginal Cultural Assistant. “There were so many opportunities for learning and connecting with people. I feel very grateful to have been part of this special event.”

Strengthening Our Relations Conference Basket Weaving Photo
Conference participants enjoy a basket weaving workshop.

New Connections and Friendships

That feeling was echoed by a number of conference participants, whose enjoyment of the event was deeply influenced by the many opportunities to communicate, share and experience their culture within their peer group.

“I hoped to make new connections at the conference and that’s exactly what I did,” says Louisa Barney, a recent high school graduate from Grand Forks.

“This was one of the best Youth Conferences I have ever been to,” says Kaykaitkw Derrickson Hall from the Okanagan Nation Alliance. “There were very high quality and in-depth presentations and discussions; it was actually pretty mind-blowing!”

“I had no idea how things would turn out, and what happened was amazing,” says Will Klatte, a Selkirk College student, poet, and member of the Nisga'a Nation. “The youth, educators and everyone else were all so great. I made several new relationships and was surprised by people’s willingness to share their stories and to listen to those of others.”

Strengthening Our Relations Conference Round Dance Photo
Selkirk College President Angus Graeme joins participants in a round dance.

A Big Thank-You!

Organizers are hoping that this year’s conference was the first of many, and would like to thank a number of organizations for their support, including Selkirk College, the Columbia Basin Trust, the City of Castlegar, the Selkirk College Students' Union, Zeburock Multimedia and the Kootenay Gallery, which provided a Young Visions art exhibit throughout the event.

Learn more about Aboriginal Services at Selkirk College and visit the Aboriginal Services at Selkirk College Facebook page.

Learn more about the Aboriginal Youth and Educators Conference, visit the Strengthening Our Relations Facebook page and view pictures in the 2013 Conference Photo Gallery.

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