Content Warning:This article contains content about residential “schools,” please read with care.
When Val Baptiste heard about a drag bingo fundraiser being held for her and fellow residential “school” survivors, she wanted to go see what it was all about.
“Carl showed us a picture of him in drag and told us about the money that was going to be donated to our group,” Baptiste tells IndigiNews. “I was thinking, when I saw his picture I was just like, wow, I got to meet this guy. I just got to.”
Carl Meadows, Interior Health Agency’s executive director of clinical operations for the South Okanagan, was one of the organizers, and the main performer for the events.
“There was about 75 people per event, and then we had a 50/50. It was so incredible,” says Meadows. “One lady won the 50/50, so she won $600. She grabbed the money and gave it back to us, and she said ‘give this to survivors, I don’t need this.’”
Baptiste says she was seven years old when she attended the St. Mary’s Mission in Omak, Washington — and she continues to feel the impact of her time there.
“I’m learning how to just survive. That’s all I’m doing now is surviving,” Baptiste says.
“That evening, I felt really good. It made me forget. I felt lighter. I felt, wow. Somebody watching, somebody was listening, somebody heard, somebody is supporting us.”
Meadows partnered with Gregory Gordon, owner of Theo’s Greek Restaurant, to organize the two drag bingo fundraisers for local syilx survivors.
During the event, Meadows provided participants with bingo cards to play two games, while performing a drag show. The events raised over $8000, half going to the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and a half to the Penticton Indian Band (PIB).
Meadows said when he heard about the 215 children discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS), he felt compelled to find a way to support the survivors.
“I phoned Jennifer Lewis [ONA’s wellness manager], and I said, ‘hey, I think it would be great to do a fundraiser for the survivors,’” he says. “As a minority myself, when allies are doing the work, it’s way more meaningful.”
The fundraisers took place in the summer and then on Oct. 27, 2021, Meadows and Theo’s Restaurant hosted a dinner with ONA wellness manager Jennifer Lewis, PIB Chief Greg Gabriel, and syilx survivors to present the donation.
“The ONA felt it was important to bring survivors together, to talk about what happened at Indian residential school and to give space to Indian residential school survivors to tell their stories,” says Jennifer Lewis, ONA wellness manager, referring to the dinner following the event.
The ONA and PIB say they had no contribution to the fundraiser, making this evening more meaningful.
“After the dinner, there was a strong sense of connection of allyship. It was really strong, and a lot of settlers are really wondering what they can do and what’s appropriate for them to do,” she says.
“It was such a pleasant surprise to find out that Theo’s Restaurant made a generous contribution towards keeping the message regarding residential school survivors and the history,” PIB Chief Greg Gabriel says.
“These events continued to help educate everyone.”
Editor’s note: According to nsyilxcən language keepers, there are no capitalizations in the spellings of any nsyilxcən words. In an egalitarian society, capitalization insinuates there is something that holds more importance over another, and that does not fall in line with syilx ethics.
HELPLINE:A National Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. Access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866 925-4419. Within B.C., the KUU-US Crisis Line Society aims to provide a “non-judgmental approach to listening and problem-solving.” The crisis line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-800-588-8717 or go to kuu-uscrisisline.com. KUU-US means “people” in Nuu-chah-nulth.
Athena Bonneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse