The Best Thing We Can Do for the Okanagan and Ourselves, Ever

I’m working on a series of 100 practical things we can do in the Okanagan to create a sustainable culture. They are archived in the menu bar above. Let me give you a hint: this is not it:

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This is:

Let that be our parliament. It is the pow-wow grounds at the Okanagan Indian Band at Head of the Lake. This is the biggest change of all, and the most important. We’re not going to get there all at once, but it’s not impossible to get there, and getting there is worth it. Please follow along through this argument, although it might be hard reading. I repeat: it’s worth it. Here’s how it works:

  1. All of this land between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean belongs to its First Peoples.
  2. All of this land between Brewster and Kettle Falls Washington and Enderby and Merritt British Columbia, belongs to the Creator, who gave it into the care of the Syilx People.
  3. They never gave it away.
  4. The Creator was, arguably, given to the peoples of North America as a concept by fur traders who preceded recorded European exploration of the West by 250 years. There is evidence, although not conclusive — although how could it be.
  5. The Country of Canada takes its justification from the Queen of England (and Canada), who takes hers from God (and the Crown Jewels.)
  6. The Okanagan takes off from God, too.
  7. No argument there.
  8. Sure, I own the small piece of land my house sits on, and the Queen owns 94% of the rest of the place and leases it out to American logging companies, and I own my house itself, and my apricot tree, well, actually no, the robin owns that …

… waiting for dinner! Bless her. That nest has been rebuilt in the same spot for five years now, and who knows how many before that. I can lay no claim to it, except in a claim to care for it for her. If her kids would only leave my strawberries alone, but … oh well.

9. There are multiple levels of government in this place, which there should be, as this is a successful and dynamic democracy and a prosperous, liberal industrial state. It is a complicated place requiring a great amount of democratic discussion.

10. Let’s expand that discussion.

Currently, Syilx participation in those levels of government is minimal, although it is mandated by the Government of Canada, which set fair accommodation of the Syilx, and all native peoples, as sovereign peoples, as a condition of British Columbia (this place on the North Eastern Pacific) entering the dominion of Canada. Fair enough. Thing is, I have sat on local committees and only once has there been native participation (there has, however, been resistance to it, despite my protests), and that only in the body of one single man in a sea of 60 immigrants … not just Canadians but Canadians new to the valley, some only a week or two into the experience. All this in a situation in which in the last 145 years only two land issues between the sovereign governments of the 198 independent aboriginal nations of British Columbia have been settled. My revulsion aside, you might ask what right do I, a man with obviously European ancestors (Rhenisch, Silesian from Kattowice, Gleiwitz and Wroclaw) have to be commenting on First Nation issues? Good question. None, except… I was born in 1958, which makes my personal memory and experience of this experiment over a third of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing. True. How about this: my grandparents came in 1929, which makes my family experience two-thirds of its total. Pshaw, that’s nothing either, not when considered against the, what, 500 generations of the Syilx or the, I dunno, 1000 generations of the Haida. That’s kind of my point. Still, I do think, though, it gives me the right to speak a little bit about European culture in this place. What I’d like to offer is this:

Every political decision made in this place should be made with the full and equal participation of the Syilx. It should have been so in 1858, but it’s not yet too late to start.

Period. No limitations or exclusions or excuses. None. No saying, “but this is Canada, and we’re all Canadians.” The terms of that takeover have not yet been met. This land is in Syilx care. There is no negotiation on that. We can join them, but that’s it. And they’d be welcome of any help. This is who they are, and it’s who I am, too.

This does not mean, though, that I’m advocating a single Syilx representative on every council and board in the region. That means 1 vote out of dozens, as big of a change as that might be. It would mean a bit of important ceremonial recognition, but little else.  No, I’m advocating a change. I’m advocating a Syilx vote for every Syilx community in the region. In my city, Vernon and Coldstream (there’s kind of a disagreement over class, which gives 2 administrations, which is so White, isn’t it), there are at least eight traditional villages. Here’s one. It’s currently a trailer park, a dredged creek, an airport and a soccer field. Everything to the right of the creek has been in the courts since 1895. It is currently for sale.

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This is not too much to ask. The European people of the Okanagan might be honest, and might have purchased their land in good faith, and they have, of course, but, ultimately, it’s not ours. It’s Syilx land. Ultimately, if I want to prune my apricot tree I should be conferring with Syilx elders about that. Now, I know that’s impossible, and no one, especially Syilx elders, who have grandchildren to care about, for the love of God, wants to get involved with that, but regulations can, and regulations are created by committees, and committees work on majorities, discussion and either consensus or majority vote. Eight Syilx members on every committee? That would make the discussions relevant, and would likely lead to something like a 50-50 sharing of power.

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This hill above Kalamalka Lake stands just above the point of a triangle of three village sites. You are looking at three votes.

Here’s my thinking: the earth is dying; we did this; no excuses.Now, we can’t give the earth a vote; but we can give a vote to its fruitful places, the ones suitable for human settlement, through the people who answered that call and whose survival is dependent upon honouring it. That there are no people in the view below is kind of the point.

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They’re there in spirit, and they need to be invited back there, not in some romantic fashion, but in the hard, nuts-and-bolts practical work of working together. They keep asking. Let’s answer “yes” this time. Let’s ask them. Anything else — anything else — is racism. That the “land” and the “water” below is a Provincial Park is racism (unless we use the time it has bought us to move forward) …

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I told you this one was hard. Now, let’s work towards it, slow step by step. Let’s be brave. We can do this. If we can’t, we should pack up and leave. Me? I’m staying. What about you?

2 thoughts on “The Best Thing We Can Do for the Okanagan and Ourselves, Ever

  1. The thing that makes humans top predators is that they prey upon each other. This tendency is not separate from the tendency towards love and care, nor for the one that leads to social unions. The correlation makes complex, balanced forms of social organization important, despite the claims of the ultra logical that an abolishment of religion would lead to world peace. Nothing of the kind would ensue, nor would the global adoption of religion, but the striving for better forms of social organization, which is an ongoing project, must go on. The seduction of forms of perfection and stability, as eternal verities once found, is just that: a seduction. What I find worth working towards is a form of human social organization that broadens the social group, not just by including a global perspective and embracing all social and ethnic groups but by including the earth in the group. Humans do best when they love and laugh, otherwise they get depressed and nervous, and start to lash out, and you don’t want to put a top predator in that position.

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