A Winter Feast intended to “show a little love” for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, which originated in the Secwepemc Nation in 2016, continues to grow, and held its fourth event on Jan. 11.
The “Helping Our Urban Kwselktn [Family] Indigenous Winter Feast” (HOUK) was created by two members of the Bonaparte Band: Johnny Perry, who manages support workers for Vancouver Native Housing, and former Bonaparte Kukpi7 (Chief) Ryan Day. In 2016 the two men — along with Perry’s father, Johnny Perry, Sr. — were talking about how difficult it is for DTES residents in the dark days of January, and particularly for Indigenous residents who are far from their traditional homes. The three men decided to organize donations of traditional food, which would not only provide nutrition and the medicine of First Nations food and gathering, but help connect people to their land.
The first event in January 2017 — which included a dinner featuring Indigenous foods — was a success, and has been held annually ever since. The event is 100 per cent donation- and volunteer-based, and has grown larger every year as word spreads via social media, and countless people volunteer their time and energy.
This year Simpcw First Nation chief Shelly Loring and her husband Mike were among those who travelled to the DTES for the feast, along with Bonaparte elder Diane Sandy. Perry says that a lot of people wanted to travel from the Interior for this year’s feast, but the weather didn’t cooperate.
“That didn’t stop us. We had powwow dancers, grass dancers, and drummers, and served more than 600 people at the feast.”
Perry — who organizes the event — says that Day has stepped back due to his young family, but donated more than 100 jars of moose stew. He says that co-organizer Kerry Redman — who stepped forward when Day had to take a back seat — was a huge help.
“She has her own communications company, Redman Communications, and does all media, posters, and letters. She set up a GoFundMe page, and did an awesome job helping me organize. I’m really happy to have her by my side. If not for her help, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Over the last year they sent out letters asking for donations of food, toiletries, money, and more. The GoFundMe page raised $1,300, which enabled the organizers to buy Facebook ads so they could reach out to more people.
“That made a huge difference,” says Perry. “We got a lot of donations this year. Simon Fraser University stepped forward, the VanCity Community Engagement Foundation provided a donation, and we had private donations. Everything really helped.”
The Woodward’s Atrium was provided at no cost as a venue for the dinner, and Perry says everyone was very appreciative.
“They enjoyed the entertainment and got fed really well. Everyone got one or two bags of donations, which included traditional foods like deer and moose meat, salmon donated by the Westbank First Nation, berries, jams, private donations of socks and gloves. People dropped off $50 here and $100 there and that really helped us purchase more socks and gloves. We didn’t want anyone to go away empty-handed.”
Perry says that the reason he does what he does is simple.
“My goal — the reason I do this — is to lessen people’s pain, just for a few hours, and show some extra love. We say ‘Here are some canned goods and some toiletries.’ It can’t solve the world’s problems, but it can take away the pain for a few hours.”
Asked if he had thought, back in 2016, that the feast would still be going strong four years later, Perry says he and Day had never thought it would run to five, but that planning has already started for a fifth HOUK event in 2021.
“We had good intentions, but had no idea [it would keep running]. We thought that starting the planning in August was early, but we’ll start earlier this year, in April/May, putting the word out and getting commitments.”
He likes the fact that the event is held right in the DTES. “We get all parts of the community reaching out, and we had a bunch of volunteers from as far away as Williams Lake and Seattle. It was great to see our friends from Williams Lake come down and donate their time and make the event happen. Our goal next year is to reach out to northern communities and get the word out.
“What warmed my heart was that people believed in our vision of love and kindness. Traditional food is getting harder and harder to come by for us, but we won’t stop trying to connect people back to home.”
The future of the feast is dependant on ongoing community support, and HOUK organizers are looking for donations of traditional Indigenous food and medicine, warm clothes, and toiletries, as well as volunteers and financial support. They invite everyone to join the community that is already working on next year’s event.
To learn more about how you can contribute to HOUK2021, join the online Facebook community at Helping Our Urban Kwselktn (Family), or get in touch with Johnny Perry at (604) 418-1780 or email@example.com.