Kamloops Powwow grounds transformed into makeshift evacuee camp
'It's an open door,' says Chief Fred Seymour of the Kamloops Indian Band
A spiritual gathering place for Kamloops First Nations typically full of music and colour has been transformed into a makeshift camp for wildfire evacuees.
The Tk'emlups Powwow grounds are playing host to about 300 hundred people who have made their way into Kamloops after being forced out of their homes.
"It's an open door," said Chief Fred Seymour of the Kamloops Indian Band. "Until you're in that situation being displaced, you don't know how your house is or when you'll move back — we're here to try and make it comfortable for everybody."
The majority of campers are First Nations, many of whom left reserves near Williams Lake.
A Cariboo Regional District spokesperson says First Nations have not been included in the province's estimate of 40,000 who have been impacted by evacuation orders, making that number likely higher than it is.
The district says it is working with a community liaison to determine that number but that information would most likely come from the bands themselves.
At the powwow grounds, Seymour says donations have poured in, which has allowed volunteers to help serve three meals a day to evacuees.
'I just want to be home'
Elders and those who arrive without camping gear are provided with one of the 120 beds set up at a nearby school.
But despite those small comforts, evacuees are still pining for the obvious.
"I just want to be home," said Edna Lulua who has been away from Redstone Reserve, approximately 170 km from Williams Lake for nearly a week. "My family is at home."
She says four of her children remained in that area to help cook after another First Nation fled into their community.
Besides missing home, some evacuees struggled to breathe as a thick, inescapable haze covered the grounds on Monday.
Like a family
With no indication as to when residents can return home or go back to work, James Thorne from Williams Lake said he felt grateful necessities were being provided free of charge.
"We've been here in the past in powwows," he said. "Normally it's a place where they make money on the camping but now they've opened the campgrounds as a refuge ... it's really nice."
He says the massive camp had become like a family of people who are all in the same boat.
It gave him a chance to speak with people he had seen before in his neighbourhood but never stopped to talk to.
Kamloopa Powwow could be postponed
In three weeks, the Kamloops Indian Band is scheduled to host its much-anticipated annual powow but it might cancel the event if the wildfires continue to keep evacuees out of their homes.
"We're here until day's end," said Seymour. "Because this is our priority."