Kelowna sits on the traditional, unceded territory of the Syilx/Okanagan people. This sculpture of historic Syilx Chief, Charlie Swkn̓cut, created by Crystal Przybille, features details signifying various aspects of Syilx culture.
At the height of Syilx culture, about 3000 years ago, it is estimated that 12,000 people lived in this valley and surrounding areas. The Okanagan people employed an adaptive strategy, moving within traditional areas throughout the year to fish, hunt, or collect food, while in the winter months, they lived in semi-permanent villages of kekulis, a type of pithouse.
When the Oregon Treaty partitioned the Pacific Northwest in 1846, the portion of the tribe remaining in what became Washington Territory reorganized under Chief Tonasket as a separate group from the majority of the Okanagan, whose communities remain in Canada. The Okanagan Tribal Alliance, however, incorporates the American branch of the Okanagan. The latter are part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, a multi-tribal government in Washington state.
The bounds of Okanagan territory are roughly the basin of Okanagan Lake and the Okanagan River, plus the basin of the Similkameen River to the west of the Okanagan valley, and some of the uppermost valley of the Nicola River. The various Okanagan communities in British Columbia and Washington form the Okanagan Nation Alliance, a border-spanning organization which includes American-side Okanogans resident in the Colville Indian Reservation, where the Okanagan people are sometimes known as Colvilles.
The today Upper Nicola Indian Band, an Okanagan group of the Nicola Valley, which was at the northwestern perimeter of Okanagan territory, are known in their dialect as the Spaxomin, and are joint members in a historic alliance with neighbouring communities of the Nlaka’pamux in the region known as the Nicola Country, which is named after the 19th-century chief who founded the alliance, Nicola. This alliance today is manifested in the Nicola Tribal Association.
The Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation
The Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation are a trans-boundary tribe separated at the 49th parallel by the border between Canada and the United States. Our Nation is comprised of seven member communities in the Southern Interior of British Columbia: Okanagan Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands, and Westbank First Nation; and in Northern Washington State, the Colville Confederated Tribes. Our members share the same land, nsyilxcən language, culture, and customs. We are a distinct and sovereign Nation.
Today the Syilx/Okanagan People continue to assert their jurisdiction and responsibility over the stewarding of their land, resources and quality of life of their citizens. Our nsyilxcən language and our Syilx/Okanagan culture respectfully honour the natural laws of the tmixw – that which gives us life.
Source: About Syilx Nation