“kiɁlawnaɁ has been an integral and critical part of Syilx culture since time immemorial – its presence in Syilx Territory is an indicator of the health of Syilx land and people.” ONA Tribal Council Resolution 2014/15 No.292
For Syilx people, kiɁlawnaɁ (grizzly bear) are a significant part of our laws, protocols and central to our creation stories. They are a part of tmixʷ (all living things) and Syilx people have always regarded them as one of our relatives who guide us to respect the land and live in health.
Our territory was once home to thriving, interconnected populations of kiɁlawnaɁ, but population numbers have steadily declined since colonization, following decades of historic overhunting and persecution coupled with habitat loss and fragmentation. The combination of these impacts continue to suppress grizzly bear populations today and will only intensify with the effects of climate change.
The decline of grizzly bear populations in the territory demonstrates that the health and security of the land is in dire need of recovery. Trends in declining populations must be reversed and we must restore ecological resilience and health back to the land for kiɁlawnaɁ and all tmixʷ.
As such, the ONA has taken direct action to reduce pressures on kiɁlawnaɁ and recover threatened populations. In 2015, the ONA Chief’s Executive Council (CEC) passed a Tribal Council Resolution declaring kiɁlawnaɁ at risk and in immediate need of recovery, particularly within remnant transboundary populations found within Syilx territory. The ONA was directed by leadership to develop and undertake activities to assist kiɁlawnaɁ recovery in ways consistent with Syilx culture, traditional knowledge, values, laws, and customs. These have evolved to include specific recovery projects for the North Cascades, Kettle Granby, and Okanagan Highland grizzly bear populations. Guided by this mandate, the ONA has completed important initiatives to carry out ecological and cultural aspects of our responsibilities to kiɁlawnaɁ and form supportive relationships with other Nations, governments and organizations needed for success:
Gathering and Preserving Syilx Traditional Knowledge:
- Working with elders, knowledge keepers, hunters and gatherers from Syilx member communities to understand and preserve traditional knowledge, interests and concerns about kiɁlawnaɁ
- In 2019, the ONA gathered information on syilx Indigenous Knowledge of kiɁlawnaɁ populations, habitat, possibility of recovery and threats in the Okanagan and North Cascades regions of British Columbia. A report was submitted in 2020 to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COWESIC) Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Subcommittee to inform the population status review process for the Western Grizzly Bear Population (in Spring 2023).
- Summer 2020, the ONA co-hosted a field tour and workshop with the En’owkin centre to support of kiɁlawnaɁ habitat enhancement work for the Kettle-Granby population. Over three days, syilx Elders and Knowledge Holders and members of the syilx Huckleberry Women Protectors came together to discuss ways we can care for st̕xałq (black huckleberry) for the Kettle-Granby population. Together we visited areas in the Lower Columbia basin to assess st̕xałq patches and discuss traditional practices like burning, used to enhance the health and productivity of st̕xałq and other plants. As part of the workshops, ONA staff conducted interviews with participants to internally document syilx traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and receive guidance for next steps of this initiative.
Developing Complimentary Scientific Information:
- Since 2018, the ONA has been conducting field survey programs for the North Cascade and Kettle-Granby grizzly bear populations to assess habitat conditions and develop recommendations for increasing the availability of important bear foods and enhance habitat security and connectivity
- Habitat suitability mapping and road density data for the North Cascades were compiled and updated by the ONA in 2018, and a list of interim measures and priorities was developed and communicated throughout partnering Nations.
- In collaboration with wildlife researcher Clayton Lamb (University of Alberta), a study was conducted on the relationships between kiɁlawnaɁ and road density within the Kettle-Granby region. The results of this study provide a scientific foundation for access management and habitat securement for grizzly bears, and provides insights into other kiɁlawnaɁ population recovery initiatives being conducted in the BC Southern Interior.
- In 2023/24 we will further our understanding of current kiɁlawnaɁ occupancy and distribution in the Okanagan Highland region using a camera trap survey. Field data collected from the remote camera traps will be used to map grizzly bear distribution and inform habitat stewardship strategies in the near future.
Partnerships and Collective Efforts for Recovery
- February 2018, the CEC passed a tribal council resolution, which was collectively endorsed by partnering Nations, calling on a Multi-Nation Approach for kiɁlawnaɁ Recovery Efforts in southwest British Columbia. The ONA and partnering Nations, Sto:lo, St’ati’mc, Nlaka’pamux and Secwepemc, sent a renewed collective message to the Provincial Government, offering a partnered approach to grizzly bear recovery, as outlined in the 2017 Auditor General’s report on Grizzly Bear management in BC. Since, the collective has developed shared objectives, priorities and recovery plans as steps towards returning kiʔlawnaʔ back to traditional homelands across the BC Southern Interior.
The ONA will continue to lead and participate in joint Nation initiatives as part of the Southern BC Grizzly Bear Stewardship Steering Committee and Indigenous Working Group, along with the recently formed North Cascades Grizzly Bear Project Team.
Improving Conditions for kiɁlawnaɁ
- Working together with external experts, we have conducted bear hazard assessments (BHA) in 2018 and 2020, in support of BC Parks’ efforts towards making park facilities safer for both humans and bears in the North Cascades. An assessment report was completed for C. Manning Provincial Park (in 2019), and report for the Skagit Valley Provincial Park will be submitted in early 2023.
- Field assessments for habitat quality and security have been conducted by ONA crews in the North Cascades since 2018. We are presently using this information to identify priority locations and candidate restoration activities that can effectively improve habitat connectivity for ki?lawna?
- Since 2020, we have been working with syilx knowledge keepers in conjunction with the BC Wildfire Service (BCWS), to develop a kiɁlawnaɁ habitat enhancement initiative for the Kettle Granby population. Through field investigations, candidate locations containing st̕xałq (black huckleberry) patches have been identified as needing treatments, to improve availability for kiɁlawnaɁ In 2023, the ONA will develop restoration prescription, burn plan and monitoring protocols, by applying syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge and conducting ecological and cultural field assessments.
We continue working towards recovering healthy populations of kiɁlawnaɁ within Syilx territory, and in this way, we will re-establish our responsibilities and relationships with kiɁlawnaɁ to respect our tmxʷulaxʷ and live in health. Further information on kiɁlawnaɁ specific projects are found on the side tab to the left.
For more information please contact:
Cailyn Glasser, ONA Natural Resources Manager
Please Note: The photo on this webpage was taken near Manning Provincial Park on October 13, 2015 by John-Ashley Price.