The annual Gathering Our Voices Indigenous Youth Leadership Training will take place in Port Alberni this year. FACEBOOK PHOTO

Port Alberni prepares to welcome hundreds of Indigenous youth delegates

Gathering Our Voices event will take place in the Alberni Valley from March 19-22

Port Alberni will be welcoming hundreds of Indigenous youth delegates from across the country this week.

The 17th annual Gathering Our Voices Indigenous Youth Leadership Training will take place in Port Alberni from March 19-22 on the traditional territories of the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nations.

Gathering Our Voices is held annually in March. The first event took place in 1999 with more than 100 delegates and has grown every year.

“It’s a yearly conference that is for youth leadership,” explained Victor Tom, executive director of the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society and treasurer on the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres board. “This year, we’re holding it in partnership with the Friendship Centre in Port Alberni.”

Each year, BC Friendship Centres apply to co-host the event, and surrounding First Nations are engaged to ensure the community is consulted from planning to implementation. This year, the Port Alberni Friendship Centre put out an expression of interest and was selected.

Over the course of four days, 900 delegates aged 14-22 will gather at different venues in Port Alberni to participate in ceremonies, workshops and engaging, informative and educational experiences. More than 80 volunteers have signed up to help out with the event.

The opening ceremonies will take place at the Alberni Athletic Hall on Tuesday, March 19 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. March 20 and 21 will be full days of more than 100 workshops, focusing on arts, career, education, leadership and technology. Many of the workshops are culture-based, said Tom.

“We try to integrate it with the local culture, too,” he added.

Delegates will also be able to participate in a Youth Talent Showcase on Wednesday evening and a Youth Dance Party on Thursday evening. Also on Thursday, a showing of Edge of the Knife will take place at the Alberni District Secondary School theatre—a film made entirely in the endangered Haida language. The film showing is open to the public and begins at 8 p.m.

Closing ceremonies will take place at the Athletic Hall on Friday, March 22 at 9 a.m. and will feature keynote speaker John Saddleback.

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