The Other Side of the Coin, or Where Did All the Indians Go?

One thing about life in the Still Wild West is that there are always multiple stories. For example, yesterday I told a story about my vision of the land, which unites both aboriginal and settler experiences. There are many other stories. For example, I grew up in one story about Native Americans and Indigenous Canadians that talks about the land and beauty, about how a people who were the land died out and their spirits blow in the wind, blow sadly and hauntingly through the land that remains after their passing, and sometimes looks like this…

Saskatoons in Bloom, Turtle Mountain

The irony about this white-washed story is that when I first went to school in Cawston in 1964, half of the kids in the class (half!) were Similkameen kids from the reserve. I believe one of them made it through high school. This drop out rate is to their credit, I must say, because that school was nuts, but that’s another story.

This romantic story, which helped power colonization in this region, is still alive, and looks kind of like this …

Canadian Winnebago Culture at Prince’s Shopping Centre, Oroville, Washington

Notice the white version of Syilx pictographs on the rock above town. As in most towns int he Okanogan, each year’s graduating class clambers up there and paints the year of their graduation on the rock.

Most of the time, however, this strange form of cultural appropriation has (thankfully) been replaced by far more careful work. There’s this, for instance, from Armstrong

“When fur traders first came through the area in the early 1800s, they found the Splatsin and Okanagan people long established as successful hunter gatherers. Today the Splatsin and Okanagan people are an integral part of the local community.”

Of course, that good work is in an article that represents 10,000 years of history in 2 sentences, and 150 years of settler history for a whole screen, so it’s not quite as careful as one could wish, but it’s respectful nonetheless. The one from Osoyoos is a bit better...

“Archeological evidence shows that Aboriginal people have lived in the area for thousands of years, making a good living by carefully using the resources of land and water and trading with their neighbours. Today, about 450 members of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) live on the 12,950ha/32,000ac Osoyoos Indian Reserve, contributing to the social life and economy of the region. The OIB is considered to be a leader in aboriginal economic development in Canada.”

Nicely done. Sly, too. You can visit their winery, complete with his Southwest adobe construction, which grows its grapes on orchard land off of the reserve and is proud of the apricot flavours in its wines, from the old, decaying roots of European trees. You can also visit its desert centre (Canada’s only desert is on the Reserve) which isn’t in the desert at all but in the scrub steppe, but what the heck, it’s a happening place, that’s for sure, and a model of economic success, although a bit heavy on tourism, but isn’t that the aboriginal story these days. Here’s a picture from the town of Osoyoos itself, which might explain…

Osoyoos Shopping Mall, Government Office, and Portuguese Heritage Centre

To honour the Portuguese who fled a revolution to come to Osoyoos in the 1960s, and took over the up-to-then German and now Sikh orcharding industry for a generation, Osoyoos advertises itself as the Spanish Capital of Canada, hence the little architectural touches from Capistrano. Portuguese? Spanish? Capistrano? It’s bizarre, I know, but take a look at the horizon. That’s a Syilx ancestor back there. Looks like a mountain, but that’s only half of the story.

My point is that a lot of things in contemporary culture that appear a bit cheesy and in direct apposition to Indigenous culture are, in fact, deeply anchored in its traditions, in the way that casinos and rodeos sprang out of First Nations potlatch and gambling culture, which were forms of political and economic administration that were not only efficient but fun, too. To heck with White Anglo Saxon Protestant dread seriousness. Like, how much fun is that?

Bismark Monument, Hamburg, Germany

Not a whole lot of fun, really.

The Nk’mip winery, for instance. Spanish-Portugues-California-Adobe-Osoyoos. Loads of fun, and good business, too. And this, a bit further north …

Iron Indian with an Iron Salmon, Okanagan Falls Beach

 Politics can be, you know, pleasant, and artistic, too.

II love and respect this work and the claims it makes. It is one of a series of sculptures spanning the length of Syilx territory, in both Washington and British Columbia. I think that in a broader Wild West culture that rose from the collision of Métis, Indigenous, and Settler cultures, more of the Indigenous cultures stuck than meets the eye (although in transformed forms). I find that worth honouring, and, yes, a bit of fun, because it is almost always playfully expressed. Bittersweet, or sometimes just bitter, but playful, nonetheless. Excellent trickster work, in other words. Here we are a bit further north again, with another in the long series of stunning sculptures …

Snya¿stan Shopping Centre, West Kelowna

The most powerful centre for the Okanagan’s white diaspora is in West Kelowna, much of it housed in developments mirroring Central and Eastern Canadian dreams on land belonging to the Westbank First Nation. Cool.

Here’s how the Westbank First Nation describes all this:

Way’ – Welcome to the traditional lands of the Syilx people – the Okanagan people who have lived here since time immemorial. It is with great pride that the Westbank First Nation community shares with you the heart of the Okanagan. We are fortunate to have an excellent climate year round and plenty to do no matter when you visit or what your passion is. Please enjoy the shopping, the golf, and take a few moments to take in the spectacular views. Source.

West Kelowna, a merger of Indigenous and White culture. I think we can take them at their word. The golf, that’s White, I’d say, but the shopping?

The Self-Proclaimed Heart of the Okanagan

I’ll say this much: the heart isn’t here geographically, because this is close to the northern edge of Syilx territory, but the business, yeah, that’s as Indigenous as can be.

“Land” is a European word, not a Syilx one. It was the Europeans who wanted to go farming. The Plateau people? They just wanted to trade stuff. In other words,  this is likely as much an expression of Syilx as of White culture …

Outbuilding on the Reserve at Fort Okanogan, Washington

Here’s the main building, to attract tourists and residents alike…

Chief Joseph Smoke Shop, Fort Okanogan

This emporium (surely the right word) sits on the Okanogan River Estuary. Note the spacious parking lot.

One conclusion to draw from all this might be that when First Nations people discuss Land Claims processes (in British Columbia, virtually no treaties were ever signed), they’re not talking about land but about their hearts and about having space to tell their own stories, which are economic and not like this…

Barbarossa Memorial, Kyffhaueser, Germany

Celebrating the new empire of 1871. 

Tomorrow: surviving remnants of early White-Indigenous relations.

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