Our History

The Okanagan Indian Band is one of the eight member Band communities of the Okanagan Nation Alliance; the other member Band communities are Lower Similkameen Indian Band, Upper Similkameen Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Penticton Indian Band, Westbank First Nation and the Colville Confederated Tribes.

The following address the Okanagan/Sqilxw/Syilx perspective of the proper names and terms for our people, contact with European people and the fur trade, the land allotment for the creation of the Okanagan Indian Band.

Proper Names and Terms

The following paragraphs will clarify the confusion about the names and terms used by people writing about the Okanagan Indian membership or their ancestors. Okanagan is the “Anglicized version of Suqnaqinx and refers to the Indigenous people of the Okanagan territory, it translates as ―takes to the head or mind” (Cohen 2010: page xiv).

Sqilxw is “[t]he Okanagan term for the Indigenous people also commonly called the Okanagan whose territory is located in the southern interior of BC and north central Washington, literally translates as the dream in a spiral. Syilx is also used and refers to the peoples who speak Nsyilxcen, the Okanagan language” (Cohen 2010: page xiv).

An important related note is the fact that the Okanagan Indian Band membership and their ancestors are known as Inkumupulux or Head of the Lake. Inkumupulux is both a name for the people and where we live. The route continues from “near the head of Okanagan Lake following the easiest route through the valley to the confluence of the Okanogan” (in the excerpt the Canadian or Northern Okanagan spelling is used however, the Southern or American Okanogan spelling of the river would be more correct) and Columbia Rivers. The fact that the Okanagan territory is divided through the border between Canada and the United States of America; as a matter of fact, the fur trade route through the Okanagan valley became unused due to the implementation of the 49th parallel, or the Canada-U.S. Border.

Contact and The Fur Trade

The early 1800s was the time of first contact between present day Okanagan Indian Band memberships’ ancestors and European fur traders. As a matter of fact, the present day Westside Road is situated both on and adjacent to the Okanagan Trail that is widely known as the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail. From our perspective, the name, Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail is not an accurate name; rather, present day Okanagan members call the Okanagan Trail, Nkwala’s Trail. Chief Nkwala, was not only an Okanagan Indian Band Chief, he was also an important Okanagan Nation Chief whose life is chronicled from adolescence by George Dawson and through adulthood until his death in 1859 by the Hudson Bay Company fort journals.

Westside Road was not fully paved until relatively recently, and the following excerpt written in 1925 explains the Okanagan Trail that was used by the Hudson Bay Company in their fur trade endeavors and is widely known as the Hudson’s Bay Brigade Trail.

The first written records of transportation were given in the Hudson’s Bay Records. From Fort Alexandria on the upper Fraser River the bales of furs were loaded on the back of horses, and packed over a trail through the McLeese Lake canyon, and over the high ridge down into the North Thompson River valley to Fort Kamloops and from there over a trail which led through the hills via Monte Lake. It came out near the head of Okanagan Lake. The Okanagan Valley was followed wherever the going was the easiest—wherever the best feed was found for the horses. The pack train eventually landed at the confluence of the Okanagan and Columbia Rivers, near the present town of Brewster in the State of Washington. Here the furs were and shipped by water to London, England. So we find that trails were the first means of transportation. (Okanagan Historical Society 1925:50)

Creation of Indian Reserves That Comprise The Okanagan Indian Band

The political climate of 1887 made necessary the creation of reserves. It must be remembered that British Columbia joined the Confederacy in 1871 and the international boundary was implemented in 1846. In 1887 Indian Reserves were deemed necessary as shown by editors Armstrong, Derickson, Maracle and Young-Ing’s in the book We Get our Living Like Milk from the Land (1993/94) that contains the following excerpt of a letter from the Minister of the Interior to the Indian Reserve Commission:

The Canadian Government were not disposed to raise the question of the general rights of the Indian population to the soil in British Columbia, so long as the Indians were contented. They would prefer not to do so now; but they cannot fail to perceive that there is a great danger of an Indian war growing out of the land policy of the Provincial government.

In order that the question may not be raised, and war avoided, it is of the utmost consequence that the Commissioners, in setting apart Reservations [or Indian Reserves] for Indians, should make them as ample as to avoid the necessity, if possible, of raising the question.” (52)

As a result of this ongoing political and social tension, the Reserve Commissioners allotted the reserves that comprise the Okanagan Indian Band. Initially, the Okanagan Indian Band was comprised of the Okanagan Reserve no.1, Otter Lake Reserve no.2, Harris Reserve no.3, Swan Lake Reserve no.4, Long Lake Reserve no. 5, Priest’s Valley Reserve no.6 and Duck Lake Reserve no.7 (Armstrong 1993/94: 118). Mission Creek Reserve no.8, Tsinstikeptum Reserve no.9 and Reserve No. 10 were removed from the Okanagan Indian Band when Westbank Indian Band, now known as Westbank First Nation separated from the Okanagan Indian Band to become their own Indian Band in the mid-1900s. These reserves were allotted as the Okanagan Indian Band respectively from 1877-1891 and were variously surveyed from 1880-1889 (118).

“The North Okanagan [C]ommon[age] reserve [was] allotted October 15, 1877, lay between the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake and Kalamalka and Wood Lakes, surveyed at 24, 742 acres.” (53)

Armstrong, J., Derickson, D., Maracle, L, & Young-Ing, G. (Eds.). (1993/94). We Get Our Living Like Milk From the Land. Penticton, BC: Theytus Books.

Cohen, W.A. (2010). School Failed Coyote, so Fox Made a New School: Indigenous

Okanagan Knowledge Transforms Education Pedagogy. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of British Columbia, Vancouver.