The annual Nishiiyuu Council of Elders Gathering brings cultural support to communities

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“Sometimes I forget who I am,” said Douglas Ottereyes after the annual Nishiiyuu Council of Elders Gathering held in Eastmain August 22-25. “The gathering taught me how to keep our tradition alive, our culture and our language. It taught me how to look at the Cree way-of-life.”

The four-day cultural gathering offered discussions on such topics of cultural preservation and the promotion of Cree language in Eeyou Istchee. It gave Ottereyes, the Cree Nation Youth Council representative and vice-chair of the Waswanipi Youth Council, a better understanding about the Cree way of life.

This year’s turnout saw a spike in attendance. Event coordinator Stella Masty Bearskin estimates that about 200 people turned up, compared to the 42 who attended the first cultural gathering seven years ago.

“It’s getting more popular, and attracting enthusiastic crowds,” said executive director Janie Pachano.

Numerous workshops featured beading, carving, storytelling, hide preparation and traditional medicine teachings, among others. Evening activities included sweats, cedar baths, and pipe and sacred fire ceremonies – all of which were in Cree.

The gathering was held over four days to honour the four seasons and directions in Cree teachings. The Cree Nation Youth Council directed events on the first day with youth cultural demonstrations and focus groups.

The second day gave way to teachings from Cree women in communities. Pachano holds the women’s gathering in high regard, noting that only in recent years have Cree women been invited to the discussion table. “We weren’t allowed to attend meetings or take part in political decisions when things were decided for the community. The first meeting I remember was the hydroelectric project in 1970s.”

On the third day, cultural coordinators were invited to present activities from their communities in honour of learning and sharing knowledge. And on the final day, Elders spoke about the importance of preserving Cree culture and language. They discussed the shadow that alcohol and addiction casts over their communities.

“The Elders discussed the Cree way of life, and how to keep our culture and our language alive. Some of the youth have lost our language, and the Elders want us to keep it alive,” said Ottereyes.

With regards to addiction, said Ottereyes, “The Elders talked about how to stop it by being the example, and showing our youth how to change and not to follow.”

For Pachano each one of the activities that took place during the gathering was important. “For me, every one is significant because it is our culture.”

Members of the Eastmain community opened their doors to accommodate the gathering’s higher demands. This included community members cooking meals from their homes and volunteering their time.

Bearskin was overjoyed about Eastmain’s involvement, calling it friendly and dynamic. “I was really happy with the community.”

She said 60 to 70 people volunteered during the gathering and the youth were more than willing to help. “You could see the motivation and the respect they had for the gathering. It showed their work ethic.”

Eastmain’s Cree Nation Office adopted a policy stating that staff members who wanted to help could count their hours towards their worksheet.

In return, Elders supported the Eastmain community by helping them heal through the recent overdose incidents in the region. Part of the gathering’s objective is to lend its support to the host community. Bearskin noticed how the Elders’ presence helped the community come together. “[People] said they really appreciated it because it’s something that helped them heal and recover.”


Next year’s gathering will be held in Waswanipi.

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