n’titxw or Chief Salmon is the chief of all things water. Historically salmon was an important part for food and economic purposes but past and current decisions by government have limited ONA members salmon availability and access.
ONA is dedicated to restoring our Indigenous food systems and ensuring food sovereignty for the well-being and resilience of our community members. Central to this commitment is the development and promotion of a food fishery, currently focused on the harvest of Okanagan sockeye salmon, but extending to many other indigenous fish, including rainbow trout and kokanee.
As the food fishery continues to develop we are transitioning to a fully participatory fishery. We have two 16 foot vessels with motors and troll gear for lake fishing, 90 foot river tangle net to fish at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (OK Falls), as well as other gear including an ice machine, totes and coolers for transferring fish. These tools and instruments are central to providing food fish to community members. All fishing gear is also made available to communities during the fishing season. ONA also donate rods and gear at traditional Winter Ceremonies to encourage and enable people to fish in the coming year. In 2016 we saw over 800 indigenous and member fishers at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ, the highest seen since the mid 1990s.
Alongside revitalized salmon are revitalized indigenous fishing practices. Beliefs and traditions are a very important part of indigenous culture and often reflect a deep understanding and respect for nature. ONA honours our roots by using holistic traditional practices—handed down from our ancestors. The Okanagan Nation has a dedicated group of fishermen who are committed to these methods and harvest for our artisanal fisheries. During fish harvest certain parts of the salmon are returned to the river of origin. Portions of fish are given as also offered to eagles and owls, again reinforcing strong reciprocal bonds within the broader ecosystem.
We are working diligently to ensure that community food distribution occurs when we are able to. ONA, through health and wellness coordinators, coordinate with membership, with distribution proportional to membership. We are committed to ensuring equal opportunity for all bands and members to access fresh fish. In 2016 over 13,000 seine caught fish were distributed for food, social and ceremonial (FSC) distribution.
As of 2016 we are moving forward to extend the reintroduction program to Okanagan Lake so the salmon have another cold water lake [after Osoyoos and Skaha Lake] to help us build resilience in sockeye salmon stocks. Based on its size and depth we could see over thirty thousand spawners per year and optimistically anywhere from 300,000half a million for fisheries harvest would be coming to Okanagan Basin. It has the significant potential to meet food, social, ceremonial needs, providing food security for communities.