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kɬúsx̌nítkʷ, the original and accurate name for ‘Okanagan Lake’



skawilx (Sarah Alexis) sits in her home in her community of the Okanagan Indian Band, where she shares the importance of place names. Photo by Kelsie Kilawna

skawilx, also known as Sarah Alexis, recalls having a vivid dream as a teenager that led her to understand her true responsibility to the siwɬkʷ (water), and specifically kɬúsx̌nítkʷ (Okanagan Lake).

In the dream, she was visited by nx̌ax̌aitkʷ, briefly known by settler folks as “Ogopogo.” To have a dream of nx̌ax̌aitkʷ is very significant, and often, for sqilx’w, dreams carry information about the work you are being called to do. 

“I remember telling my sister, and my sister was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, you have to remember this moment in your life and think about why you had that dream and why you’re seeing him,’” she says.

Having grown up intimately close to kɬúsx̌nítkʷ (Okanagan Lake), she says it was her first call to her responsibility to do what she could to caretake the siwɬkʷ (water). 

And ever since then, skawilx has dedicated her life to the siwɬkʷ and has furthered her understanding of sqilx’w roles and responsibilities to the water through nsqilxʷcen. 

As an academic and expert, the Okanagan Indian Band member has contributed knowledge towards developing the syilx siwɬkʷ Strategy (Okanagan Water Strategy) with Okanagan Nation Alliance.

“A lot more sama7 (visitor) people, a lot more Western people, are wanting to base work on Indigenous knowledge, syilx knowledge, localized knowledge,” she shares. “And that knowledge is really an extension of all of the places that we live in. It’s an extension of the natural world, the mimicry of the natural world, because that’s really what and who we are.”

Grasslands, deserts, forests, mountains, rivers, and lakes all each have a name — just like any person. And skawilx shares that it’s important for non-sqilx’w folks to learn about language, place names, and personal accountability in the natural world order — for this will begin to shift how people see themselves as part of place.

She says people can start by learning about the more accurate name for one of the major water landmarks in her nation’s territory, colonially known as Okanagan Lake — but historically known as kɬúsx̌nítkʷ.

“Contemporarily, it’s really important that we recognize and talk about the places that we’re all from,” she says. 

(AUDIO: Listen to skawilx introduce herself in relation to the water here.)

‘Two sides of the body’

All aspects of syilx homelands carry teachings, protocols and medicines, all shared through captikʷł (oral storytelling laws), where sqilx’w phsyical being is tied to the timx’w, all living things. Image created by Kelsie Kilawna, graphics by Lauren Marchand

kɬúsx̌nítkʷ is “a place or a body of water that has two long sides,” skawilx explains. 

“Two long sides in the sense of like when you look at your body, and you’re talking about ‘my right side’ and ‘my left side.’ And if we were to visually look at Okanagan Lake, that’s exactly it, this long body of water.”

The tie-in to human autonomy in kɬúsx̌nítkʷ is important to recognize, skawilx says, and is something that is common in other place names. 

“Recently, I was reminded that a lot of the words that we have in nsqilxʷcen, or in nsyilxcen, often reflect the words we have for ourselves and vice versa,” she shares. 

“We are based off of the land. And so, of course, words that are associated with our body, our physical body are also reflected out there on the land on the tmxʷulaxʷ (the land) in the natural world order.”

To build on this, skawilx shares, a lot of the place names in sqilx’w homelands share unique sounds that mimic the natural habitat and give the listener knowledge about the essence of each place — mimicking sounds of the rushing water or other attributes.

“We can look at them and listen to them and figure out what they’re really trying to tell us because a lot of place names often mimic the natural world order that’s around there,” she says. 

“So when we speak in nsqilxʷcen, when we understand nsqilxʷcen, we’re just an extension of the timx’w (everything alive) and the tmxʷulaxʷ (the land) and syilx. So, thinking about the importance of recognizing place names and learning them is very fundamental in this contemporary context.”

(AUDIO: Hear the pronunciation of kɬúsx̌nítkʷ here and learn more about the place name teaching here.)

What can folks do to learn more?

skawilx says she has witnessed many changes to kɬúsx̌nítkʷ just within her lifetime.

“In the Okanagan, it has this aesthetic that it’s so beautiful, you can come here, and you can go boating and swimming and fishing, and in the winter, you can come skiing, and you can explore all these places,” she says.

“We have wineries, vineyards and this playground that you can come in and enjoy, but all of those things take away from the actual ecosystems that are out there. We have a lot of red-listed and blue-listed species here in the Okanagan, and so anytime you buy into all of these like recreational things — think about the impacts it’s having.”

She also encourages sama7 (visitor) folks to get curious about their water use, asking themselves questions such as: Do you know where it comes from? Do you know which tributaries are responsible for providing you with water? Have you visited those places? 

She says it’s also important for settlers to do their own research, since sqilx’w people already have a lot of responsibilities to shoulder.

“You know, growing up sqilx’w, we were going to high school and beyond that, to live and learn, to be educated about knowledge systems and knowledge beliefs that aren’t ours, and now we’re very familiar with those,” she says. 

“So now those tables need to be flipped in a way. I think the big thing non-syilx people can do in terms of kɬúsx̌nítkʷ, is to be curious about how water plays a role in their own life.” 

The sqilx’w responsibility

For sqilx’w people, many feel a heavy responsibility to the timx’w and siwɬkʷ that can feel overwhelming because of colonial interference. syilx Peoples are commanded to caretake the land as intended by Creation. 

skawilx shares a good way to start that connection with the timx’w, for syilx people, is by learning a traditional introduction in the language.

“When you learn how to introduce yourself, you’re not only talking about yourself and your own job, or your responsibilities or the pieces that you hold, but also you’re bringing in your extended kinship,” she says. 

“We all have roots that stem from different places. And I think recognizing those places is important and fundamental in terms of each of us stepping into our own roles, each of us stepping into our responsibilities of being sqilx’w, being syilx.”

Knowing that nsyilxcen introduction will show sqilx’w how interconnected life is in terms of water — there will be water-based words found in names that enact responsibilities, life work, place names, and family names. It’s embedded deeply into sqilx’w existence.

“You know, whether that’s in people’s jobs, or whether that’s in their families, or whether that’s in community work, volunteer work, or whether it’s in more abstract thinking, it’s always there. You’ll see it’s the basis and foundation of everything, and I know, it’s really cliche to say, but water is life,” she says.

“I think if we were to step forward into the future, recognizing that water is in every single thing that we do, I think that’s a very strong step forward.”

Reporting for this story was made possible in part through a grant from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors




From left: Whitney Cardenas, Chris Ingle and Jaden Sampson were at the career fair with PIB’s fire department. Photo by Athena Bonneau

During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.

The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.

It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.

The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more. 

Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).

Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.

Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.

“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.

“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”

Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau

As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience. 

“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.

Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.

Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.

“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.

“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”

Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.

“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.

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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect




sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr., an 18-year-old syilx Youth from the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, pictured at Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court on Nov. 3. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.

The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves. 

So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops. 

“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band. 

“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”

Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.

In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.

“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.

But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed. 

At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.

“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.

Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.

He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.

In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.

“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.

A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached. 

“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.

This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”

Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.

“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.

He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process. 

“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.

Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.

Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.

“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.

“Honestly, it could save someone.”

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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’




The Sweláps Market features Secwépemc language and culturally-influenced architecture. Photo by Aaron Hemens

Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) is celebrating a new community-owned grocery store that’s bringing food options and employment opportunities to the reserve. 

The grand opening for the new Sweláps Market is set to take place on Thursday at 11 a.m., and will include speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting. It will also feature week-long deals and prize draws, giveaways and food samples. 

The Sweláps Market is located in the Chief Louis Centre, and had its soft opening on Oct. 19.

The market is owned by TteS but is open to everyone. The store displays signs in Secwepemctsín (Secwépemc language) including a welcoming of Weyt-kp above the front door. 

The language also labels each department of the store such as q̓wlem (bakery) and ts̓i7 ell swewll (meat and fish). 

On the market’s website, each department is listed with audio files to hear the proper pronunciation.

Sweláps translates to “bighorn sheep” and the logo represents the sheep’s horn among the mountains and North and South Thompson rivers.

The 22,000-square-foot grocery store incorporates culture into the architecture, including a Secwépemc weaving design on the ceiling and a wooden ladder outside which resembles the entrance of a pithouse. 

After the ladder was carved on-site by Charles Dumont, the owner of Coyote Contracting and a TteS band member, and his son Ryder — a ceremony was held to bless the log as it was put into place. 

General manager Kara Stokes spoke about the importance of having a market in the community, given that, before now, the closest grocery store was off-reserve and across the river.

The vision for a band-owned grocery store goes back ten years, Stokes recalled, with multiple locations explored before settling on the Chief Louis Centre.

Before the store’s opening, Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir expressed high hopes for the store’s impact.

“This project will bring food closer to home, create employment, and further strengthen our economy,” she said in a community statement. “It will be a source of pride as leadership is fully implementing a community driven opportunity.” 

Before opening, the public was kept up to date through updates and upcoming events listed on the market’s website.

A members-only job fair was held in September to give band members a chance to explore the job opportunities before opening it up to the public.

Between full-time and part-time job openings, the market employs a total of 65 people in management and frontline positions.

Stokes explained that the job openings are a helpful addition for TteS. 

“That opens up the opportunity for a lot of people who live in the area to be able to work in the area,” she said.

Since the store opened to the public last month, Stokes said she has served customers of all ages and varying family sizes. The market is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.

“Everybody’s been coming in and shopping and it’s really amazing to see the support from the community to be able to provide this service,” she said.

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