The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) gathered at its annual general assembly on July 27 and 28 to celebrate the resilience and successes of its people.
The event, which happened in Castlegar, was one of the first times that many Nation members have been able to gather safely since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March. Coming together as a nation is key to affirming its connections with the land, territory and one another, said the Okanagan Nation Alliance in a media release. Presentations and dialogues about the Nation, land and territory were part of the assembly.
“We have a lot at stake in our work to keep advancing our inherent rights as Indian people — safeguarding and asserting those rights for our future generations,” said ONA tribal chair Clarence Louie. “Our youth need to be inspired with dreams of serving our nation. They must see that we are all from here and not let colonial thinking keep us divided.”
This year’s general assembly was also important because it took place in the eastern part of Syilx territory. The Syilx Okanagan Nation’s connection has been affected by the Columbia River Treaty, which industrialized the Columbia River system and destroyed thousands of square kilometres of land. This, in turn, destroyed historical Syilx Okanagan villages, sacred sites, burial grounds and food harvesting areas, breaking many cultural and family connections.
Castlegar is within the traditional territories of the Sinixt, Ktunaxa and Sylix nations.
“By journeying out and being on the land together to share our Syilx history, stories and perspectives, we are working to ensure that these connections continue to be handed down for generations to come,” said the Okanagan Nation Alliance in an emailed release.
A variety of cultural activities also took place alongside the presentations and dialogues. These activities included on-the-land tours to Syilx ancestral villages, Nation restoration and monitoring projects. In-depth presentations on the Syilx Language Declaration were also part of the activities. The Declaration emphasizes the Nation’s responsibility to protect, revive and advance of the nsyilxcən language and was signed at the 2018 ONA general assembly.