Our History

“The original people of the Okanagan were wished here by k̓ʷuləncútən, the Creator of oneself, Creator and arranger of the world.” (We Get Our Living Like Milk From the Land)

iʔ saʔx̌ʷiptət | Our History

It is understood that Syilx Okanagan People have come from the land and animals themselves. Before humans were created, animal people lived on the land and gave up themselves along with their ways, beliefs, practices, and experiences for the people-to-be. Many of the teachings we have today come from the animal and plant people are portrayed through capt̓ikʷł, oral narrative. These capt̓ikʷł help to bring forward many important Syilx values, teachings, and worldviews.

The capt̓ikʷł help to carry Syilx Okanagan natural law. These laws can be understood from the stages of Syilx Okanagan People.

  1. st̓əlsqílxʷ (torn from the earth) - life form of first people without natural instincts to survive.
  2. xatmaʔ sqílxʷ (in front of us sqílxʷ ) - first thinking people who learned the natural law to survive.
  3. sqílxʷ (dreaming ones, bound together, of the land) - original people who learned to live together on the land in peace.
  4. ʔawtmaʔsqílxʷ (to struggle and/or come after sqílxʷ) - today’s sqílxʷ after the arrival of new comers.

These stages bring light to the worldview of the Syilx Okanagan People.

With first contact with European settlers, many practices, tools, beliefs, and worldviews were introduced. The Fur Trade was very prominent throughout the interior of British Columbia and was one of the major disturbances of the Syilx Okanagan economy by the displacement and rapid settlement and extraction of tmixw species.

This Fur Trade era brought about a rush of development for settler communities throughout the interior of British Columbia amongst some of the many vital travel corridors and Syilx seasonal settlement areas including all of the major city locations in the Okanagan Valley. The Syilx Okanagan people were often swept aside or not thought about during this phase of settler development and is the centre of many social and economic issues still today regarding Title and Rights to the tmxʷulaʔxʷ, siw̓łkʷ, and tmixʷ. With rapid settlement occurring, the flux of rising activities including agriculture and ranching became very popular amongst Syilx Okanagan people and spurred a growth of gardening and raising livestock. While these activities were prominent in Settler communities and lifestyles, many impediments were felt by Syilx Okanagan people especially in regards to the introduction of disease.

kʷu kʷliw̓t l̓ nqmaplqs | We live at Head of the Lake

Located at the head of Okanagan Lake is the Okanagan Indian Band main reserve. The Okanagan Indian Band comprises six reserves located in the North Okanagan totalling 10,636 ha of reserve land. These reserves are Okanagan, Otter Lake, Harris, Swan Lake, Priest Valley, and Duck Lake. Members of the Okanagan Indian Band live in various historical villages up along Okanagan Lake, Round Lake, Swan Lake, Duck Lake, Wood Lake, and Kalamalka Lake. These historical settlements are still highly valued and are occupied by current generations.

While the main reserve is often associated with nqmaplqs, many of the tributaries and sites of significance along the lake hold place names each associated with ancestral and contemporary use such as Komasket Park. Each place name holds the significance of the area often associated with activities, specific species, land forms, or seasonal settlements. While the Okanagan Indian Band is located in the North Okanagan valley, the territory of the Syilx Okanagan People extends beyond the reserve boundaries.

The binding that brings together Syilx Okanagan People is the language itself. Nsyilxcn or nqilxʷcn is a part of the larger Salishan family group. Nysilxcn is the language of the Syilx People and nqilxʷcn is Indigenous language. Nsyilxcn is one of 23 Salishan languages. Salishan languages have been spoken in North America for thousands of years and are still spoken to this day in Southern British Columbia, Washington State, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Nsyilxcn is spoken by the Okanagan in British Columbia and by the Southern Okanogan, Sinixt, Methow, and Sanpoil tribes in Washington State.

Click here to see a map of our traditional territory.

kʷu sqílxʷ, kʷu syilx | We are Indigenous, we are syilx

The Okanagan Indian Band is a part of the Syilx Nation. The Syilx Nation extends across the 49th parallel and is a transboundary Nation. It comprises 7 communities on the Canadian side and one confederated tribe on the United States side. The Okanagan Indian Band is the most northern community of the Nation and neighbours the Upper Nicola Band to the west and Westbank First Nation to the south. The distinction between the Okanagan Indian Band and the other Syilx communities is based on location and linguistic dialect.

The international boundary between Canada and the United States has had a profound effect on Syilx Okanagan People’s access to traditional activities, resources and has to some degree changed the ancestral and historic relationships of the tribes on either side of the border.

The Syilx Okanagan territory has 8 regions that help to differentiate the various village sites.

  • senq’aʔitkʷ - Southern Okanagan
  • suknaqinx - Northern Okanagan
  • senpʕʷilx - San Poil
  • senx̌̓ʷyaʔłpitkʷ - Colville/Kettle
  • sʔaltik̓wet - Arrow Lakes
  • senʕickstx - Slocan
  • smelqmix - Similkameen/Methow

iʔ tmxúlaʔxʷtət | Our land

“siwɬkʷ is the lifeblood of our tmxw ulaxw and our timixw and we as Syilx People recognize siwɬkʷ as a sacred entity and relative that connects all life.” (Okanagan Water Declaration)

The traditional and ancestral territory of the Okanagan People extends from the northernmost point from Mica Creek, BC, down south to Wilbur, Washington State, it extends from the west from Guichon Creek over to Kootenay Lake in the east. The biodiverse territory plays a major role in the precise movement of hunting, gathering, fishing, and ceremonies across various ecosystems. These specific ecosystems range from high mountain alpine, grasslands, wetlands, and desert. Each playing a role in hosting various important plant and animal species. The diversity of the landscape is parallel in the various language dialects that are found across the Syilx Nation.

The land itself plays an important role in shaping the numerous activities and engagements Syilx Okanagan People enjoy and have responsibilities to undertake. The nsyilxcn term for tmxúlaʔxʷ can be translated “better as life-force-place, rather than of land as location or ecology type” (Jeannette Armstrong). Understanding that the tmxúlaʔxʷ, land, is more than just the outdoors but as a concept that Syilx Okanagan People have respected the tmxúlaʔxʷ as our mother earth.

The following is an excerpt on the definition and translation of the nsyilxcn word for water. This definition will help to provide context on why the natural world is so important and the relationality between humans and water itself. The “nsyilxcn word for water; the meaning comes from (siw) and (łkʷ). The (siw) comes from siwst – to drink (human). The (łkʷ) comes from łkʷitkʷ to lap (animal). Together the two parts identify the syilx ethic that the right to water is equal for animals and humans. siwłkʷ is sacred as the sources of all life on the tmxʷulaxʷ” (Marlowe Sam and Jeannette Armstrong).

Within the natural world, we also have the tmixʷ, Bill Cohen describes it as “spirits of the land/ecology refers to all the beings and things in the ecology with spirit”. The relationship between the tmxúlaʔxʷ, siwɬkʷ, and tmixʷ is that of the natural world itself and Syilx Okanagan People have continuously respected the entire landscape as a whole. It is a Syilx Okanagan teaching that humans exist within the natural world itself and not above it.

iʔ skʷísts | Names

The use of nsyilxcn names have come to be very prominent throughout the North Okanagan and the broader territory. Many of these pieces are utilized for a variety of reasons. The most prominent are Anglicized and have been socially accepted as the place for many towns and cities.

Okanagan – The term is an Anglized version of the term ‘suqnaqinx’ which refers to the tops of the mountains/hillsides. It can be used and it sometimes refers to the people who speak nsyilxcn.

Syilx – The term is a nsyilxcn translation for the people who speak nsyilxcn.

Sqílxʷ – The nsyilxcn term for Indigenous person. It can be understood as human in its most rudimentary form. It translates as “the dream in a spiral”.

Suqnaqinx – The nsyilxcn term referring to the top of the head or mind. Syilx scholar Dr. Cohen refers to its translation as ‘takes to the head of mind’.

Inkumupulux – Is the nsyilxcn place name for head of Okanagan lake. It is also spelled as nk̓maplqs.

Some nsyilxcen place names, although anglicized, can still be seen in the territory today. They include (Spallumcheen), (Kelowna), (Penticton), (Similkameen), and (Osoyoos) in the Okanagan valley alone.

Iʔ stłtałt | Title and Rights

Okanagan Nation Declaration: https://www.syilx.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ON_Declaration.pdf

July 2010 - Unity Declaration: https://www.syilx.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Unity-Declaration.pdf

July 2014 - Water Declaration: https://www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/water-declaration/

July 18, 2018 - Syilx Language Declaration: https://www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/4918-2/