Indigenous peoples have occupied the Interior for thousands of years.
Jordan Coble is the cultural and operations administrator at the Sncewips Heritage Museum. He spoke with the Capital News about the culture and history of the Westbank First Nation, from before settler times to today, as part of our video series called Carli’s Cultural Connections.
Q: When did the Westbank First Nation form in the Central Okanagan?
A: Westbank First Nation became a recognized community in October 1963, but we are a part of a greater nation since forever, based on our oral histories. Scientifically speaking, our people have been in existence on these lands for over 12,000 years.
Q: How do you determine those dates?
A: Remains were uncovered along the Columbia River, and there was some debate on who it belongs to. Through tests, it was determined it was Indigenous people’s remains.
Q: Indigenous people in the Central Okanagan have a dark history, can you talk more about that?
A: When we talk about some of those not so happy times for our people, we really want to emphasize that before those not happy times we were a very thriving people. We had a high quality of life, we had very comprehensive educational systems, government structures, resource management systems and there was equitable trade within our nations and there was a lot of knowledge of the land and our neighbours. Prior to settlement in the Okanagan, we were a very happy and thriving people.
The gold rush was detrimental to our people, bringing in gold-hungry folks from the US. There was no recognition of the people that were here. The fur brigade trail, it’s written in history as a positive aspect of settlement in the territory, but in reality, it altered our ways of being.
We really valued women in our community, but that wasn’t the case with Okanagan settlers.
Then, of course, The Indian Act really hindered our development. Residential schools were absolutely a travesty to our people. They were taken from here and sent to either Kamloops or Cranbrook. The abuses there are unimaginable and difficult to talk about, but again, that’s what we want to focus on here is sharing that history.
Q: Were there residential schools in the Central Okanagan at the time?
A: There were some day-schools implemented in the Okanagan, but that was the extent of it. Not every community member here attended residential school. Many were able to evade them. But it’s an aspect of history that needs a lot of healing, it needs a lot of attention and we need to talk about it. But there are other aspects of history that were very negative, so although we need to focus on residential schools there are other aspects that we need to talk about.
Q: How does the healing process even begin?
A: We always try to start with a conversation. The first thing we do is when we have the inquiries, we have the emails, we invite people into the space and we talk (about) where we’re at in a kind of getting-to-know-each-other phase so you understand what their issues are, what our issues are, and where we can find that common ground so we can start a meaningful conversation.
Q: Why is history so important?
A: You’re never going to get to where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from. My belief is that this idea of reconciliation that is shared and supported by our current government (is about) knowing where we came from and knowing the roots of the issues that we face today. History has been a one-sided approach, talking about First Nations peoples, we’re not necessarily represented in the best light.
Understanding historical context as to how things came to be and contemporary context as to why they are the way they are today, and what we can do for the future, is a way to find more meaningful conversation and pathway to healing.
Q: How does WFN fit in with other Aboriginal communities in the Okanagan?
A: WFN is one of eight communities that comprise the entire Syilx nation. In the Okanagan Valley, we’re part of the Okanagan district, but the territory as a whole is comprised of many different districts.
Q: Where can people go to find more information about culture and history of the Westbank First Nation?
A: The Sncewips Heritage Museum is a recommendation. We really pride ourselves in creating a safe space. Everyone that walks in gets a hands-on tour. We put all of our collection items into context, historical and cultural so that people understand all the things of the past still contribute to our daily lives, our daily cultures today.
Visit the Sncewips Heritage Museum at 1979 Old Okanagan Hwy.
Every two weeks, a different culture will be featured in Friday’s edition of the Capital News and online at www.kelownacapnews.com. Contact reporter Carli Berry at email@example.com.