The presently known Okanagan valley is also known as the Okanagan Indian Nations traditional territory, or as the “Syeelhwh Nation”, which means the people who live here”. “S-Ookanhkchinx” or Okanagan translates to mean “transport toward the head or top end”. This refers to the people traveling from the head of the Okanagan Lake to where the Okanagan river meet the Columbia river. In other words Okanagan Lake and Okanagan river were the traditional transportation routes of the people and their traditional boundaries encompassed this area.
The Okanagan people were hunters and gatherers. Their staple diet consisted of deer, salmon, rabbit etc… The Okanagan’s were also gatherers of roots, berries and various other plants. The first contact with the Okanagan’s was probably made in the late 1700’s through the Hudson’s Bay Company.
One of the first actual contact dates was recorded in 1805 at Fort Kamloops. The Hudson’s Bay “brigade trail” led right through the Okanagan Nation’s territory, from Fort Kamloops to Fort Colville, presently know as Colville, Washington, U.S.A. From that point the influx of European settlers was slow and yet steady, and both the Okanagan’s and Europeans worked towards a living arrangement than would satisfy both.
It was understood that Okanagan’s would continue to use their traditional hunting, fishing and gathering grounds. As settlement of the Okanagan increased, the establishment of the international border and the colony of British Columbia joining confederation, put considerable pressure on the provincial government in B.C. to designate reserves for Native people. This would allow for the settlers to formally own the lands they settled on.
Reserves were finally established in the early 1900’s. The Okanagan people opposed the establishment of the reserves without first having negotiated a treaty. Today the Okanagan people still believe that the land is theirs, as no treaty has been negotiated as yet.
For general information about the OKIB visit the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada website.