Sheri Stelkia, an elder in the Osoyoos Indian Band, shares stories with visitors stories about how the Okanagan people were self-reliant and well provided for through their own ingenuity.

In the South Okanagan, Indigenous Culture Speaks from the Heart

Sharing language and culture with Okanagan visitors

Late August is berry-picking season and for Sheri Stelkia, it is time to stock food for the winter ahead. If she can pick five pounds of huckleberries before the season ends she will have enough to last her until spring.

Generations ago, Stelkia’s ancestors would have camped in the mountains for a week to secure their bounty of berries. Today, visitors to the Osoyoos and Oliver region of British Columbia can participate in the Indigenous practice of collecting berries at various locations around the area.

The gathering of food is a way of life that provides a direct connection to Stelkia’s lineage as a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band.

“Many, many years ago they would have been picking for weeks. They would have dried up all the berries and it would have been saved for the winter,” she says.

The Okanagan Nation, some of whom refer to themselves as Syilx people, have for thousands of years lived on territory that covers forests, grasslands, lakes and desert. On that land and in the waters, Stelkia, an elder in the Osoyoos Indian Band, tells visitors stories, known in her Syilx language as captíkʷł, (which is pronounced chapteekwthl) about how the Okanagan people were self-reliant and well provided for through their own ingenuity.

Living in the South Okanagan, Stelkia says she hopes visitors to her region will learn about how the story of the Four Food Chiefs combines land and sea and the old and new worlds.

“It tells people about why we’re so respectful of the land and the food,” she says.

Language and culture remain alive for the Okanagan Nation because it can be shared with others, including visitors. The Syilx Language House, located at 190 Footprints Court in Penticton, was formed as a non-profit for the purpose of creating new generations of nsyilxcən (pronounced nseeylxchin with the x sound like an h) speakers in the community and recording the stories told by elders like Stelkia. Nsyilxcn, like most Indigenous languages, is critically endangered. Fewer than 100 fluent elders remain and until recently no new speakers had been created in Canada for decades.

When visitors come to Osoyoos and Oliver and the region where the Okanagan Nation people have inhabited long before colonization, Stelkia hopes they can see and hear how the Syilx-speaking people are keeping alive their rich culture and legends through interactive activities and programs at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre.

“The land is where we come from and where we’re all going to go back to,” says Stelkia. “It’s like our language and culture. It’s all locked together.”

MORE ABOUT VISITING SOUTH OKANAGAN

Where to Stay: Spirit Ridge Resort, Unbound Collection by Hyatt Location: 1200 Rancher Creek Road, Osoyoos, BC (see map below) Website: spiritridge.hyatt.com Telephone: 250-495-5445 Room Rates: A search on the property’s booking engine returned a nightly rate of $199 for a September weekend.

INDIGENOUS EXPERIENCES

Syilx Language House: Visit the facility’s website to learn about its impressive programs focused on keeping alive and broadening the knowledge of the Syilx language.

NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre: This outstanding attraction includes exhibits, programming and educational seminars about the Okanagan Nation and Osoyoos Indian Band. It is adjacent to Spirit Ridge Resort. Check its website to plan your visit.

Note: This article is the first in an expanded content series focusing on travel to Osoyoos and the Oliver. It was created in partnership with Destination BC, the Osoyoos Indian Band, Arterra Wines Canada, Spirit Ridge Resort – Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Destination Osoyoos, and the Oliver Tourism Association.

 

Sheri Stelkia hopes that when people visit the region the Okanagan Nation have inhabited since long before colonization, they’ll see and hear how the Syilx-speaking people are keeping alive their rich culture and legends through interactive activities and programs at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre.

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