First Peoples

1. How the Sukʷnaqinx Became the Okanagan and then the Sukʷnaqinx Again

Now, after all the years of this project, a story that reaches deep into American Imperial history and ends in what is now territory claimed by Canada in the north of my homeland.

Pahto, the Bride of the Sun, above White Swan and Mool Mool in the Yakama Illahie

In this telling, the Earth, who has been teaching us for 16 thousand years, not to mention our 11 years together here, gets to speak. She is, after all, our ancestor.

c̓up̓áq̓, the Girl Who Ran from Bears.

She is as white as an eagle̓s head. Note the bear faces on the cliffs, too.

In the syilx storyteller Mourning Dove’s account, this “mountain” lies at the centre of the world. The people of the Sinlahekin south of c̓up̓áq̓ and those to the east along the q̓awsitkʷ and up onto the plateau towards Nespelem and on to Inchelium and the drowned falls at Shonitku are those who live where they can see her, the white top of the world.

pql=qin above Canim Bay

As an ancestor telling this story (which will take a few years), the Earth is not alone. I am telling it along with her, and so is the ancestor siwɬkʷ, very roughly translated into the modern English term “water.”

The wounded q̓awsitkʷ slowly entering the impounded nx̌ʷəntkʷitkʷ.

During the settler period, these flows of the siwɬkʷ were known as the Okanagan and Columbia Rivers.

I was raised within this story by an ancestor known as sʔatqw=ɬp, what Don Gayton has called the tree at the heart of a people.

sʔatqw=ɬp (pinus ponderosa), Head of the Lake

My mother tree from this family was at Blind Creek, in the trough of the nmɘlqaytkw. The flow lying against the western bank of the valley, this watering in the dry mountains, shows up strangely enough on settler maps as both “The Similkameen River” and (more accurately phonetically but with only an insulting, random meaning) the gold rush town of “Nighthawk” (after nmɘlqaytkʷ). The town lies on the flow’s bank as she curls through the northern part of the United States’ territorial claim on her story.

Looking west to Nighthawk, close to the American-Canadian Treaty Line.

Among this tree and her sisters, my bones were formed by calcium from this flow —pumped into the water systems of a community of fruit orchards surrounded by mountains scoured night and day by wind.  At the height of flood season, I pulled fish from the nozzles of the sprinklers in my father’s orchard. If that siwɬkʷ-in-a-jug was left to settle for a half hour, a jug of it back in the house deposited half of its volume in mud. The siwɬkʷ itself was still as brown as a newly-tilled field, though. You make strong bones from that. I am telling this story of bones, because in ̣1939, in Mission, in the “half breed reserve”, this British Columbia, a young German-speaking girl, Dorothy Anna Leipe, was nudged forward with a basket of raspberries by her mother. Money was short. The family was hungry. Out of pity, this five-year-old girl, who would 19 years later be my mother, received a taʕa̓nya for it, what my grandmother would have called a sockeye salmon. The gift-giver was a Sto:lo woman. The setting was a fish camp near a mission church set up by the renegade priest Charles Pandosy…

Image courtesy of OMI – The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate ( 

…after he was exiled from Washington by both the US Army and the Catholic Church (quite the feat) and after he set up a colonial peace-making camp at L’Anse aux Sables on Kƛ̓usxənitkʷ (what contemporary maps show as “Okanagan Lake”). In Plateau Culture, a debt of a fish is a debt of water. It must be repaid. That is respect, in the shared giving my Secwepemcsin teacher Janice Frank led me to a quarter of a century ago in the Gold Rush camp, ̣100 Mile House.

taʕa̓nya at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ

That’s where we’ve come from and that’s where we’re going. I’m telling this story because of that debt and because this land made me to tell it. I’m telling it because it is time to be this land, as it has always been. And it is here, with the ancestors, that we begin.

S-kmxist watching me watching him after we both spooked each other near Turtle Mountain.

Welcome to my home in the grass.

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