Reflections from the 2019 Elders Gathering

by Bernadette Maracle, Prevention Manager for ANCFSAO

The 2019 Elders Gathering, hosted by Mnaasged Child and Family Services and ANCFSAO, ran for three days from September 24th-26th in Muncee-Delaware Territory, bringing together Elders from Indigenous child and family well-being agencies from across Ontario.

Elders, helpers, and cultural coordinators came together to discuss the future of child welfare. Friends were reunited and new friendships were formed, with hugs, tears, and smiles exchanged constantly throughout the three-day event.

During the gathering, attendees heard amazing words of wisdom about the teaching of the big drum, giving tobacco, honour songs, and women supporting the drums by standing around the men singing and drumming.

The Mnaasged Cultural Coordinator, Nicholas Deleary, spoke on the history of their communities and why the agency operates in Southern Ontario: they are in the centre of a triangle, between three sacred water women points, one being Niagara Falls.

Gordon Peters, Deputy Grand Chief from Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians (AIAI), spoke about legislation developments concerning Indigenous child welfare and what can be done to improve and correct them.

Beatrice Twance-Hynes, a Juno-nominated hand-drummer, played several of her songs for the group and shared teachings about playing and caring for drums.

Attendees heard a powerful story from an Elder about a men’s healing gathering, his story of years of abuse at a residential school, and his creation of a healing program for men suffering from trauma. 

Larry Jourdain emphasized the concepts of cultural arbitration and cultural congruency over phrases like “culturally appropriate” or “culturally sensitive”, as communities are looking to implement a practise that puts culture at the centre of families’ healing and strengthening.

Nogdawindamin has 26 cultural workers with 800 referrals last year and 600 so far this year. The Cultural Unit covers requests for ceremonies, teachings and workshops, assistance with circles, staff support and team building, events, community support, and collaboration and partnerships. Ceremonies include those dedicated to finding clan and colours, naming, baby-welcoming, walking out, adoption, and reunification. The agency hosts annual events and ceremonies by the season.

Feasts, drumming, and sunrise ceremonies bonded the group and kept discussions and teachings grounded in the culture and surrounding nature, and a karaoke night filled the grounds with music and laughter.

This was my first time attending the annual Elders Gathering. I learned new teachings, made new contacts, and was filled with inspiration. Coming from Six Nations, I do not have very much knowledge of the Anishinaabe traditional teachings and appreciated hearing the teachings and stories from the community.

It was a beautiful event and I look forward to learning even more next year.