Wildfire evacuees greeted with generosity at Tk'emlúps Pow Wow grounds

By Vanessa Ybarra
July 19, 2017 - 5:00pm Updated: July 19, 2017 - 6:24pm

KAMLOOPS — The Tk'emlúps people are stepping up in a big way to help evacuees displaced by the wildfires.

Over the weekend, the band made the decision to open the Tk'emlúps Pow Wow grounds to people in need of a place to stay.

Hundreds of people are using the space and band members are offering supplies to evacuees and fire officials and even offering entertainment.

For the past five days, Jay Bowe and his friend Zachariah Jeff have called the Tk'emlúps Pow Wow grounds home.

"There is a lot of people here," said Bowe. "It's a bit of an adjustment when you have 300 roomates."

The two are among the thousands of people who fled Williams Lake on Saturday as wildfires crept closer to their community.

"We're maybe ten kilometres away from the fire that's burning," said Jeff.

The two say the Pow Wow grounds were the best place to seek refuge.

"It's really traditional here," said Bowe. "There's no drugs or alcohol allowed on site which makes us feel safer. They've got some really excellent people here who watch over our camps and animals for us."

More than 350 evacuees, a large portion First Nation, have set up camp on the Tk'emlúps grounds, with more people continuing to pour in each day.

"Many of the surrounding communities were deeply affected such as Cache Creek, Williams Lake and Ashcroft," said Viola Thomas, Councillor of the Tk'emlúps te Secwepemc Chief and Council. 
 "We really felt like it was important we reach out and provide whatever support we could offer to their people."

The grounds provide three meals a day, as well mounds of donated clothing to keep evacuees as clean and comfortable as possible.

"We have everything from babies clothes, kids clothes, adult clothes, pet food, baby formula, you name it," said Jackie Manuel with the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council.

Along with a place to pick up a few tees, evacuee Alan Marianne says the grounds provide a space for elders and community members to connect during a time of need.

"I heard they were serving food here so thought I'd come and check it out and hopefully run into some family here," said Marianne.

Every morning a drumming ceremony is held where evacuees and volunteers pray for firefighters working around the clock to preserve their homes.

With some evacuees homes confirmed destroyed by the Ashcroft Reserve Wildfire and other wildfires, it's also a time for residents to begin to heal.

"It's very emotional for some of the families and I totally get it and I feel for them.," said Thomas. "Anything we can do to ease that grief is what we're going to do."

As for Bowe, whose home at last report was untouched, it's the little things he's most grateful for.

"They gave us a free cooler today, they've just been super," said Bowe. "I can't say enough good things about Kamloops, there's real Canadian people here."

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