The Syilx Okanagan Nation Alliance holds an annual meeting at the Revelstoke Community Center

The Revelstoke Community and Aquatic Center hosted the Syilx Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) Annual General Meeting. Members of the seven Okanagan bands on this side of the U.S. border met for three days, July 26-28, 2022, to discuss important issues.

Osoyoos Indian Band Chief and ONA Tribal Chairman Ki law na (y̓il̓mixʷm Clarence Louie) explained in an interview with Mountaineer staff that each tribal group has a tribal council that meets regularly throughout of the year to discuss common issues off reserve. These issues cover land, hunting, fishing, nation rights and land rights. They also meet to deal with matters involving the provincial and federal governments.

Committees regularly address these issues, and the annual meeting is where the ONA can formally meet. For example, committees such as the Natural Resources Committee, the Welfare Committee, and the Children’s Services Committee helped develop an agenda for the Annual General Meeting.

Louie says new issues are also presented at these events, and discussions often arise about promoting the nation’s title and rights to its traditional territory.

Louie says the agenda for the meeting focuses on Aboriginal title, rights and child and family services. This year’s conference saw the signing of the axe. iʔ sccuntət iʔ tl x̌aʔx.tət x̌l iʔ nəqsil̓tət (Family Declaration). The declaration was developed over the past two years by language speakers and elders across the country, according to a press release issued following the annual event.

Photo: Okanagan Nation Alliance

The ONA press release says the declaration confirms the Syilx laws and affirms the rights and responsibilities of the people to have the ability to protect the health and well-being of children and families in the country.

“Injustices against our children and families continue to be perpetrated in the territory,” Louie said in the statement. “We call on the province and the Government of Canada to sign on to this declaration and recognize our inherent rights and responsibilities to care for our children and families on our own terms and in our own way.

When asked why Revelstoke is hosting this year, Louie says the answer goes beyond simply choosing a gathering place. Revelstoke is home to the ancestors of the ONA, and it’s a place where they can be connected to that history. Louie says the ONA has decided to host the meeting at different locations in traditional territory. He says the ONA has never held its annual meeting in Revelstoke. Revelstoke is part of traditional Syilx territory and has Okanagan place names in the area.

Clarence Louie speaking at the annual meeting. Photo: Okanagan Nation Alliance

“We’re moving the AGM to different locations in our territory,” says Louie. “Sometimes it’s on Indian reservations themselves. Sometimes we just host it where our reserves are no longer, but where our people traditionally fished, worked and played.

A press release said the importance of hosting this year’s gathering in the northeastern part of Syilx territory was a recurring topic of conversation at the meeting.

“By traveling and bringing together our elders and youth in the field to share our Syilx history, stories, language and perspectives, we strive to ensure that these connections continue to be passed on to generations to come. Along with relevant presentations and dialogues, various cultural activities also took place, including field trips to Syilx ancestral villages and places of cultural significance,” ONA staff said in the statement.