The Okanagan people occupy a region spanning 690,000 sq. kilometers form Modern day Revelstoke to Orville Washington, and from the Nicola valley to Kootney lake. They used the Okanagan and Columbian rivers to transport through their territory. In 1846, the American tribe branched off in the Oregon Treaty, and although they are officially Okanagan first nations, they have little to do with the Canadian tribes.
Westbank First Nation (Kelowna) Lower Similkameen Indian Band (Keremeos) Upper Similkameen Indian Band (Keremeos) Osoyoos Indian Band Penticton Indian Band Okanagan Indian Band (Vernon) Upper Nicola Indian Band (Merritt) - also part of the Nicola Tribal Association Conferated Tribes of the Colville (USA)
The Okanogan people have formed the Okanogan Nation alliance, and the American portion managed by the Colville Indian reserve. Tribes in the Okanogan Nation Alliance include the Okanagan Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Westbank First Nation, Penticton Indian Band, Osoyoos Indian Band and Lower and Upper Similkameen Indian Bands and the Colville Confederated Tribes on areas of common concern. Each community is represented through the Chiefs Executive Council (CEC) by their Chief or Chairman.
The ONA mandate is to work collectively to advance and assert Okanagan nation Title and Rights over the Okanagan Nation Territory.
The Okanagan people were hunters and gatherers, collecting local berries, fruits, and hunted deer, salmon and rabbit. The lands rivers and lakes proved very popular for hunting, and the fertility it gave produced lots of fruits and vegetables ( i.e. Apples)
Knives or bows and arrows where used to hunt deer, elk, big-horned sheep, caribou, black bear and grizzly bear. Smaller animals included rabbit, beaver and marmot. young boys hunted squirrel. Spears where used for beaver, and nets and hooks for fish. There where four big hunts every year. In the spring they hunted for sheep and deer. In the fall long distances were covered for sheep, elk, bear, and deer. Sometimes the hunters would be away for two months. In the middle of winter, another hunt took place for deer, and in the early spring the last hunt was for sheep.
The Okanagan People used brush wood and animal skins to makes shelters. They would cover wooden frames with animals skins or bunches of foliage. In the winter, more animal skins were used or underground shelters were created. A shelter would typically house two families, or a hunting party. Their shelters were beside a river in the summer, or near hunting grounds in the winter.
The official language of the Okanagan people is Syilx, and is spoken in all Okanagan tribes.
The only main festivals were dinners around an event that consisted of feasting and dancing. Drums and rattles were used for instruments, and although no regalia were used, there was deer rattles tied to the feet and ankles. There were usually four big dances in the year - the war dance, put on before a fight, the scalp dance, where people shared their accomplishments , the guardian spirit dance, where boys became men, and the religious dance. A sun dance was also performed on the longest and shortest days of the year.
The full dress of the men consisted of moccasins, long leggings with belt, breechcloth or apron with shirt, cap or headband. The women wore moccasins, short leggings, long dresses with cap or headband and sometimes a belt. deer, elk, buffalo, antelope, caribou, and moose were used to make the clothes.
The Okanagan people worshiped land gods who provided them with their land and prosperity. Sacred to them is Spotted Lake, where medical miracles are said to happen.
Europeans started to settle the Okanagan valley in the 1700s for its warm weather for growing conditions. Although no treaty has been made, there have been few conflicts between the first nations and European settlers.
From first contact the influx of settlers was slow and yet steady, and both the Okanagans and settlers worked towards a living arrangement. It was understood that the Okanagans would continue to use their traditional hunting, fishing and gathering grounds.
As settlement of the Okanagan increased, the establishment of an international border, and the colony of British Columbia joining confederation, put considerable pressure on the Provincial government in B.C. to designate reserves for Native people. This would allow for the settlers to formally own the lands they settled on.
Reserves were finally established in the early 1900′s. The Okanagan people opposed the establishment of the reserves without first having negotiated a treaty. Today the Okanagan people still affirm that the land is theirs, as no treaty has been negotiated.