Okanagan Falls, B.C. – Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) led a celebration for the return of a traditional fishing camp located at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (Okanagan Falls). The land was set aside as a reserve in 1877, then stolen in 1913 by the provincial and federal government. The mayors from Penticton, OK Falls, and Osoyoos were in attendance as part of Reconciliation efforts happening in Canada. It was the first time in 108 years, a men’s sweat and women’s sweat happened the night before and the day of the celebration on the grounds. The family who owned the property sold one acre to OIB.
Penticton Indian Band elder Jack Krueger was invited to speak to those gathered. He addressed the youth from Senpaq'cin School, Outma Sqilx'w Cultural School and OK Falls School, “It was said by the elders, we don’t own this land, it belongs to the Nk'Mip children, we are just taking care of it.”
He related the story of how the Okanagan People organized to resist the property. He recounted seeing 14 RCMP in riot gear in different parts of town, with more on their way from Kamloops. They had their own people on the hill overlooking the area with rifles to protect the families that heard the call. This resistance in 1974 was the first time First Nations used roadblocks in Canada, according to Krueger. “I praise the leaders in the past. They did a lot. They were all here caring for you children. The only thing is, it is your responsibility, carry on your ancestors’ work. Now we give it back to you.”
Jan Stilkiya said back in 1974, Jimmy (Stilkiya) was Chief. “We talked about the roadblock. There are kinds of pictographs around here. There was some graves here, too, found quite a few years ago. This is their fishing grounds, and there is evidence that we have been here, that this is an Indian Band with a reservation. We are Indians. We cannot forget that we are Indians. Kn sqilxw, I am from here, we are Indians. Indians and sqilxw are the same. Way’ ixi.” First Nations in Vancouver, Lilloett, and Spences Bridge erected road blocks at the time in solidarity with the Osoyoos Indian Band land claims.
Richard Armstrong wished everyone a good morning and was thankful to be there and to see all of the youth was heartwarming. He recounted the tale of how Coyote brought the salmon up the river. He broke the salmon at Celilo Falls and brought the salmon to the people here. He left monuments for the People-to-be, referring to everyone in attendance.
The importance of Coyote bringing the salmon are the three little hills around the old fishing camp. When Coyote brought the salmon through here, he told the timx (Animal People) that the People-to-be will be coming. They will have a responsibility. “Everybody should know that story and read it. In the water, he told Muskrat, you get in the water, right in the water and stay there. It is your job to taste that water to make sure it is clean, clear, and unpolluted. When the salmon come up, they needed clean, clear water.
“He told Beaver to get up on the hill, which is now called Stunx (Beaver). I put Muskrat in the water to taste for pollutants. Your job is to build a dam and filter the water for any pollutants coming off the mountains, to make sure it is clean and clear. Coyote called another hill, Bear, and the one next to it, Certups (Fisher from way up in the mountains). He has no business being in the lowlands, he’s from the high mountain tops, but he was to stay right near the camp that his job was to let Stunx know, who will let Muskrat know that the land is good up there, the snow will melt and come down.
“He urged the students to know what the monuments were because Coyote knew The People-to-be would forget. “It is your job to be hydrologists, agrologists, all the things science to look after that water. When you think about water, it is the only thing left we are losing everyday. All of our elders say, there used to be a creek running there, a spring running there, a lake up there. The mountains are logged off. How will Fisher let Beaver and Muskrat know the water is good? That job is for you to protect that legacy, not only for us, but you, your grandkids, and their grandkids.”
Joe Peone, Fish and Wildlife Director for the Colville Tribes was in attendance. “First of all, I’d like to say congratulations on a gorgeous piece of ground and it’s tied back to the history of the First Nations. Having the land and controlling the land is a high percentage of being successful. So, the Colville Tribes and the ONA Fisheries work together almost weekly. Fifteen years ago, the sockeye returning up the Okanagan was 20,000 to 30,000 fish, so last year was one of the highest years we ever had, almost 600,000 sockeye. Your prayers as First Nations to bring the sockeye fish back is so important that we keep working hard to get them back. Our work with ONA, trying to get some chinook salmon and establishing other runs so you don’t have to rely on just sockeye. The summer chinook program can be huge.”
Herb Alex from the Osoyoos Indian Band works at the kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ Hatchery on the Penticton Indian Band. “We have been seeing some great returns on the sockeye. I am honored to be with people from 1974 and be with the kids today. You guys have to sing very loud (speaking to the youth). The fish are still in the ocean, they have to hear your voices all the way down in the ocean.”
Levi Bent led the youth in a song for the salmon, for the ancestors, and all of those who worked to reclaim this one acre of land for future generations of sqilxw. Everyone was invited for lunch back to The Hat at the OIB Reserve.
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