Content warning: This article contains details about mistreatment in the child “welfare” system and abuse at the hands of the Catholic church. Please take care of your spirit and read with care.
During a fall morning in kiʔlawnaʔ (Kelowna), Tahti Nipin Piyasis Nahkotah, Dorothy Goodeye, takes a break between meetings with outreach groups and service providers to find somewhere quiet.
Sitting in the gathering place at Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society — the 74-year-old Elder reflects on the experiences in her life that have led her where she is today as a powerful advocate for houseless people in the area.
Goodeye, who is from Saddle Lake Cree Nation, has lived in kiʔlawnaʔ for seven years, but helping people in need has been a lifelong journey and commitment — she said she feels guided on a path to assist and uplift those who need it.
“Everywhere I went in my life, I was a helpmate,” she said during an interview with IndigiNews.
“I was led by the Creator and his workers to different places where I often didn’t know why I was there, but it became apparent in an awful hurry, that’s where the Creator wanted me to be.”
A powerful advocate
In the Okanagan, Goodeye has helped to find homes for hundreds of people through her advocacy work, which is rooted in a deep understanding of the barriers houseless people face.
“These people are hurting on the street, and we need to do something for them,” Goodeye said.
“There are so many complex needs. There are so many organizations that allow people to fall through the cracks by not giving them the proper information.”
Goodeye is a founding member and alumni of the Lived Experience Circle on Homelessness (LECoH). In 2018, the group worked with the City of Kelowna to develop the Journey Home Task Force, an initiative designed to help bring to life the city’s five-year strategy to address homelessness.
“We brought the voice of the homeless, what they really need, in partnership with the city and then with the task force. We gave them all that information,” said Goodeye.
“They went to work to provide all the services that need to be brought forward in a good way for them. And we have housed over 400 people.”
As a key partner of the Journey Home Society, Goodeye said that the LECoH group does not “tower over” people experiencing homelessness — instead the cohort of community members aims to sit down beside them with gentleness and respect.
“It’s always been a burden on my heart to see all these homeless people,” she said.
Separated from family
Goodeye grew up in northern “Alberta” in the early 1950s, however she and her siblings were taken away from their parents during the early years of the Sixties Scoop. When she was nearly four-years-old, she was taken to the O’Connell “orphanage” for little girls in “Edmonton,” while her three older brothers were taken to the St. Mary’s boarding “school” in “Onoway.”
The experiences she had there as a vulnerable child have shaped how she relates to others and feels called to show up for — and fight for — them.
“The last memory of my parents when they were taking us away, I was standing on the backseat of a diplomatic blue car,” she said. “I was watching them shackle and cuff my parents, and put them in police cars. They were fighting — they fought for us.”
Goodeye said that her parents spent the next four years working to get their children back. By 1956, when she was almost eight years old, she had left the orphanage, but the horrific treatment she received there stayed with her.
“My folks were resilient. They were amazing. They provided really well for us kids,” she said. “The orphanage did so much damage to me — my father was horrified when I told him all that they did to me.”
But one of the earliest acts of helping that she remembers came during her time at the O’Connell. When she and a group of other little girls were rounded up for bath time, she recalls giving her doll to another little girl who was crying to help comfort her. However, one of the nuns then snatched it away and broke it.
Over the years, Goodeye says that her parents became advocates for the family and for the community as well — further instilling in her a passion for helping others.
Her family helped with the local food bank, and Goodeye remembers working with her mom to assist in relocating families whose children risked being taken away by the government. She even remembers asking her dad if they could return to the orphanage to get all the kids out of there.
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to other people,” she said.
‘A lifelong thing’
Goodeye continued to volunteer, but when she moved to kiʔlawnaʔ seven years ago, she was scammed out of a place to stay and needed to rely on community organizations to help her.
“I would be on the street and everybody would be trying to feed me or help me in any way that they could. I said, ‘No, I’m going to help you,’” she said.
And helping those who were living on the streets is just what she did. After the launch of LECoH, the group collaborated with the city and other outreach organizations to develop focus groups that collected information from people experiencing homelessness.
The purpose was to get a better understanding of what their needs are and how to address flaws in the systems that are failing them.
The Journey Home Strategy’s 2022 midterm report said that significant headway has been accomplished in addressing the homelessness crisis. Between 2018 and 2021, the number of supportive housing units in kiʔlawnaʔ increased from 307 to 535.
However, while the Journey Home Strategy states that the goal is to end homeleness by the end of 2025, the number of people experiencing homeless could reach 897 people if at least 516 housing units and other additional supports are not created by 2026.
Knowing the extent of the crisis just makes the work that Goodeye is doing all the more urgent and important.
“It’s been a lifelong thing for me,” she said.