ntytyix (Chief Salmon) is a primary food mainstay of the Syilx Okanagan peoples and central to our culture and trade traditions. A myriad of Syilx Okanagan cultural practices demonstrate snxa?l’iwlem (honouring the sacredness of the river) while reinforcing strong cultural-spiritual ties between Syilx Okanagan communities and the salmon. As one of our Four Food Chiefs, and central to many of our captikʷł, salmon are not only a form of sustenance, they are our relative, and an essential part of the continued resilience of the tmixʷ. As such, these salmon are central to a wide range of connections between generations, communities, humans & non-humans, terrestrial and aquatic species and transboundary watersheds within Canadian and American sovereigns including Indigenous Tribes along the Columbia River systems.
For generations salmon fed our people, yet when European settlers arrived everything changed. Upon contact, and the century that followed, colonization was as tough on our salmon as it was on our people. Overfishing was already an issue by the late-1800s. Logging and farming destroyed the gravel bars and clear streams where salmon lay their eggs. In the early thirties, International Water Agreements launched the building and expanse of hydro-electric developments on the Columbia River, making it impossible for fish passage, devastating the annual salmon runs to near extinction. This also led to agricultural and urban sprawl, while greatly undermining Indigenous food systems.
kł cp̓əlk̓ stim̓ is an nsyilxcen term that roughly translates to “to cause to come back”.
With the support of our elders and sacred teachings, all 7 Okanagan Nation’s member communities and the Colville Confederated Tribes remained with great conviction to get the salmon back. In 1996-1997, the ONA under the long standing leadership of the Chiefs and Councils of our member communities, and the Colville Confederated Tribe Business Council (CCTBC), formally undertook their responsibilities and obligations to their lands, waters and peoples to restore the Okanagan Sockeye Salmon back to the Columbia River systems. Our Tribal Government negotiations, assertions, and advocacy and lobby efforts continue.
There is an ongoing systematic effort to research, document and transmit the traditional knowledge that the communities still hold, while documenting Traditional Ecological Knowledge with new scientific methods and understandings. The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) has begun to receive regional and national recognition for their efforts of rehabilitating sockeye salmon stocks. As such, they are poised to play an integral role in contributing to various public dialogues including, but not limited to, indigenous food sovereignty, food security, sustainable fisheries, and indigenous grassroots development.