scʕaxans nhithitwəl̓ (Peachland Watershed), Syilx Territory: On March 22, 2019, as part of World Water Day, the Okanagan Nation hosted the 5th annual siwɬkʷ (Water) Forum. This year’s theme was ‘Collaborative Approach to Water Resiliency: Protecting Our Headwaters’, and in collaboration with the Town of Peachland, focused on the health and protection of the scʕaxans nhithitwəl̓ (Peachland Watershed).
The Forum brought together 100 people, including Syilx/Okanagan leaders, elders, traditional knowledge keepers and community members, alongside municipal and provincial governments, NGO representatives and academics. Together participants connected with each other out on the land, shared perspectives, and engaged in dialogue on drinking water protection, wetlands, and other important water issues including impacts of forestry and mining.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip affirmed that “As Syilx people we recognize our inherent right and responsibility to siwɬkʷ, one of our most sacred relations. With continued environmental degradation of scʕaxans nhithitwəl̓ the protection of these headwaters is of utmost importance to ensure that all citizens and living beings are able to access clean drinking water. We need to work with everyone’s interest in mind, particularly given the challenging issue of climate change. The future of our grandchildren depends on our ability and courage to collectively stand up and defend land and water”.
The tour began with a Syilx/Okanagan water ceremony and sign unveiling in the scʕaxans nhithitwəl̓ (Peachland Watershed), followed by a Syilx/Okanagan cultural assessment of scʕaxans nhithitwəl̓. Through the Forum attendees were part of a land assessment of the watershed and Syilx/Okanagan guides exhibited how water centric planning and management is a long-standing concept that Syilx/Okanagan people continue to practice as fundamental guiding principles. The group returned together for an afternoon of dialogue on the impacts of forestry on water quality and drinking water and worked to develop collaborative projects to address the issue.
Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin further reiterated that “Drinking water is our most precious resource and it is our duty to conserve and protect it for future generations, wildlife, agriculture and the environment. The best way to do that is in partnerships with local First Nations and our neighbouring communities”.
ONA recognize World Water Day and all the efforts globally that provide a deeper recognition to the sacredness of our water, a key to the future of our shared survival. In July 2014, the Okanagan Nation Alliance endorsed the Syilx Water Declaration. The Syilx Water Declaration serves as a living document on our relations and values to water. As it states “The Okanagan Nation has accepted the unique responsibility bestowed upon us by the Creator to serve for all time as protectors of the lands and waters in our territories, so that all living things return to us regenerated. When we take care of the land and water, the land and water takes care of us. This is our law.” For more information visit: www.syilx.org/about-us/syilx-nation/water-declaration/
Sponsors for the siwɬkʷ (Water) Forum include BC Hydro, Ntityix Resources and the Okanagan Basin Water Board.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, ONA Chair