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Beloved Penticton Elder Grace Greyeyes dies after battle with cancer

Greyeyes didn’t let her diagnosis slow her down as she participated and blessed many events
The Pow Wow Between the Lakes, the blessing of Penticton’s Rainbow Two-Spirit Crosswalk, raising the flags of the Penticton Indian Band and Syilx Okanagan Nation Alliance, and a mural against hate were all a few of the many things blessed by the presence of Elder Grandma Grace Greyeyes. (Brennan Phillips - Logan Lockhart/Western News)

After a two-year battle with cancer, beloved Penticton Indian Band Elder Grace Greyeyes died on Friday, Nov. 24.

Greyeyes was a well-respected Elder and a familiar face around the community. She spoke at Penticton’s graduation ceremonies, took part in powwows, and offered prayers for many events, including for the rainbow two-spirit crosswalk in Penticton.

Greyeyes was a keen supporter of the community for decades, both directly through her work as a registered nurse in Penticton and later as she worked to encourage education. It was something that she herself inherited.

“That love for that education came from her mom,” said Greyeyes’ daughter, Lainie Greyeyes. “My grandmother was part of the band planning back in the ’70s and the ’80s for education. My mom took that torch because, for her, it’s so important for our children to be educated and decide what they wanna do in their lives.”

For years, Greyeyes volunteered with the Penticton Indian Band’s grandma program to provide support to local elementary, middle and high school students. She also served as the Elder in Residence at the Okanagan College’s Penticton campus.

“She wanted to go back and study language, to take a few courses, and she found people who surrounded her who needed support,” Lainie said. “It wasn’t a position someone assigned her to be a resident grandma, she just took it on, so she would sit in the room and the kids would come to her. After she finished her courses, the college asked her to come back.”

Greyeyes also helped found the Indian band’s SnPink’tn Elders Society and participated in the National Gathering of Elders.

An outpouring of support for her family and tales of Greyeyes’ impact on people’s lives have been shared on social media since her passing. Local governments also expressed their condolences to Greyeyes’ family.

“The passing of Grandma Grace Greyeyes will leave a void in the community but her spirit of inclusiveness, compassion and wisdom will stay with us and continue to guide us,” the City of Penticton said in a statement.

The Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen also recognized Greyeyes as a respected Elder and a pillar of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities whose lessons will not be forgotten.

“We’re honoured to have spent time with Grace Greyeyes at various events, most recently at the Pow Wow Between the Lakes in SnPink’tn,” said Mark Pendergraft, district board chair. “Her smile and positive demeanour were always a welcome sight.”

A survivor of horrific experiences in the residential school system, Greyeyes was outspoken against hate and discrimination. She and her daughter traveled and spoke often about both surviving the system and the impacts it left on their family long after Greyeyes left.

“It was about 2003, I was 33 years old and I did not know my parents had suffered so harshly at these schools. None of us knew until the Canadian government said “We’d like to send apologies to all these residential school children,’” Lainie said. “To get the ‘blood money’ from Canada, both of my parents had to talk about their experiences and the price tag was put on it. So my mom, she knew a lot of other people wouldn’t have the capacity to share, and she wanted to make sure that she could talk about it for those that couldn’t.”

Greyeyes’ blessing of the rainbow-two spirit crosswalk, which had been vandalized just days prior, didn’t give that hate any place, but instead called for those responsible to hear and learn the wrong they did so they could apologize.

An image of Greyeyes is also immortalized in one of the anti-hate murals in Keremeos by Haley Regan, one of Greyeyes’ grandchildren.

The community’s support helped Greyeyes earlier in 2023 to complete her bucket list wish of going to a powwow in Oahu, Hawaii.

Greyeyes also blessed the Pow Wow Between the Lakes as it moved to the South Okanagan Events Centre in 2023, and she joined the procession recognizing those who made it happen with the helping hand of other organizers.

Brennan Phillips

About the Author: Brennan Phillips

Brennan was raised in the Okanagan and is thankful every day that he gets to live and work in one of the most beautiful places in Canada.
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