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L to R: Elders Millie Anderson and Sylvia Obey will be presenting at the second annual Elders’ Conference at the First Nations University of Canada on March 23 and 24. Anderson and Obey will be offering their knowledge during a women’s talking circle on the second day of the event. Photo by Michaela Solomon.

The First Nations University of Canada’s second annual Elders’ Conference will focus on Indigenous education. Elders from Nakota, Dakota, Lakota, Saulteaux, Métis, Dene and Cree nations will be sharing their knowledge.

“Our hope for this conference is to ensure that the knowledge we often teach through our elders is being shared,” said Bettina Schneider, Associate Vice-President Academic of the FNUC. “Also to acknowledge and honour our elders.”

Schneider is the regional lead of the National Centre for Collaboration in Indigenous Education, which is set to launch on March 31. The online resource will be a one-stop-shop for parents, educators, knowledge keepers and policy makers to share best practices. The upcoming launch was the inspiration for the theme of this years elders conference; Indigenous education.

“The goal for this centre is to bring people together in the field of Indigenous education,” Schneider said, “and to share those models of success in Indigenous education through this centre.”

The two-day event will begin on March 23 with an afternoon of seminars each day, on topics ranging from healing plants and the circle of life, to the use of water as an educational tool.

The first day will conclude with a screening of the locally produced documentary Waniska. Waniska, meaning ‘awakening of Indigenous knowledge’ in Cree, features the input and expertise of many elders of the FNUC. The film will be followed by a panel discussion.

The second day will feature four seminars sessions including land-based learning, working in academia, climate change and oral teachings.

“The elders have so much to give in terms of their teachings,” said Schneider. “We include elders in many academic conferences but not often as presenters in a knowledge sharing role.”

A healing circle, and a talking circle focused specifically on female participants will be available to conference participants.

Cree Elder Sylvia Obey from Piapot First Nation said when she gets the opportunity to speak for a group, she doesn’t plan what she’s going to share, and speaks to what she’s feeling at the moment.

“It’s important for me to speak from the heart and mind,” Obey said.

“I want to pass my knowledge on because it’s very important that we pass our work to the younger generations,” Elder Millie Anderson from Inuvik, N.W.T. said. “A lot of them don’t know how to sew and cook, and it’s important for them to take from what I know so that the younger generation can keep it up.”

Obey and Anderson hope to see this conference continue for years. They know the importance of providing a resource for the community to learn from elders, and for elders to learn from each other.

“We’re really trying to emphasize the important role our elders have as teachers,” Schneider said. “They hold an important connection to the past that we don’t have access to through other resources,”

The Elders’ Conference kicks off on March 23 at 10 a.m. with a pipe ceremony at the FNUC, Regina Campus, and concludes on March 24.