Growing up in the UK, I didn't learn about the Indigenous peoples of Canada in school. Everything I have learned about Canada's Indigenous cultures has come since my family immigrated to Canada in 2004. Now, many years later, my household is partially Indigenous as my wife is of Secwepemc heritage.

As a self-confessed history nut, I'm fascinated by the rich, vibrant cultures of Canada, including Indigenous peoples and the storied histories on this land that go back many thousands of years. It's important to remember that these people and their cultures aren't history alone and we still live with Indigenous cultures and people all around us.

Our local Indigenous culture is the syilx (Okanagan) people. The language that the syilx speak is called nsyilxcən. If you're a visitor or an interested local like me, where do you go to learn more about the syilx people?

Naturally, as a white-European settler, I wanted to approach this post with the reverence, sensitivity, and respect it deserved - to 'tread lightly' and explore without preconceived ideas. Learning about another culture can sometimes be an intimidating experience as we have little to no past knowledge. But I can assure you that this is a journey worth making!

Location #1 - Sncəwips Heritage Museum

Address: Unit 260, 525 Highway 97 South, Westbank, BC

I started by connecting with the generous and knowledgeable Krystal Lezard, Curatorial and Heritage Researcher at the Sncəwips Heritage Museum, to learn more about the Indigenous culture of our region. Please note the museum is temporarily closed due to a move (reopening Fall 2019). The new location is in Okanagan Lake Shopping Centre. Keep an eye on their website for news on their reopening.

The museum is a fascinating place covering many thousands of years of history, spanning pre-contact and recent history. It is also a true living museum in that a number of artefacts, such as some of the drums, are still used today. Also, kudos to Krystal, who was a great tour guide despite the fact she was in the process of packing boxes.

Sncewips Heritage Museum Artifacts

Photo by: Valaura Jones (By Jove Co.)

Below you’ll find an example of some of the beautiful basketwork that the syilx people are known for. These tremendously intricate yet very strong pieces were used for carrying water, cooking, and more. They were also an important item of trade.

Sncewips Heritage Museum Artifacts

Photo by: Valaura Jones (By Jove Co.)

I would encourage anyone who is interested in local Indigenous culture to make this museum their first stop. You will come away having learned a great deal - I certainly did.

“If I had one message I could get across to all people, it’s for them to know how valuable they are to the land, to each other. In our culture, the work that we do is considered through the filter of how does it impact seven generations ahead. This museum is the only Indigenous museum in the Nation, and it gives us the opportunity to tell our own story and explain our truth,” explained Krystal.

Sncewips Heritage Museum

Photo by: Valaura Jones (By Jove Co.)

Location #2 - Okanagan Heritage Museum

Address: 470 Queensway Avenue, Kelowna, BC

The Okanagan Heritage Museum, Kelowna’s flagship museum. is one of several museums operated by the Kelowna Museums Society (KMS). Located in the heart of downtown Kelowna, KMS recently reimagined the entire permanent gallery at the Okanagan Heritage Museum (OHM), a multi-year process.

The museum has a wonderful collection of Indigenous artefacts, information, and stories. Each drawer in the image below contains more fascinating examples of local Indigenous culture.

Okanagan Heritage Museum Artifacts

Photo by: Valaura Jones (By Jove Co.)

In one of the drawers, you will find the stick game. Traditionally, this game has played an absolutely crucial role for local Indigenous peoples. Stick games have been used as a way to settle disputes and avoid bloodshed. Some of the games can last for days and days.

Okanagan Heritage Museum Artifacts

Photo by: Valaura Jones (By Jove Co.)

A pair of moccasins showcases intricate beadwork and stitching. Another example of what you will find when you step into the syilx collection at OHM.

Okanagan Heritage Museum Artifacts

Photo by: Valaura Jones (By Jove Co.)

I asked Amanda Snyder, curatorial manager at Kelowna Museums Society, to tell me about some of her favourite Indigenous artefacts in the collection, and her absolute favourite is this fascinating gourd sculpture of a woman pictured below.

Okanagan Heritage Museum Artifacts

I highly recommend a visit to the Okanagan Heritage Museum to learn more about the syilx people and their way of life.

Location #3 - Kelowna Visitor Centre

Address: 238 Queensway Avenue, Kelowna, BC

Facing Westbank on the shores of Okanagan Lake, just by the Kelowna Visitor Centre, you’ll find a wonderful monument to syilx Chief, Charlie swkn̓cut. A key figure in the region, this sculpture promotes a message of peace during contact in the Okanagan.

Copy of Kelowna Visitor Centre Summer

The life-sized monument to Chief swkn̓cut was unveiled on National Indigenous Peoples Day this past June.

Location #4 - Kelowna Art Gallery

Address: 1315 Water Street, Kelowna, BC

The Kelowna Art Gallery (KAG) is an excellent gallery located in downtown Kelowna. With a mandate to promote contemporary Canadian art, you will regularly find fascinating exhibits at KAG.

Those who visited KAG previously had the chance to engage with the exhibit entitled Her Body Will Remember.


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“[The exhibit] features the work of Mariel Belanger, Tsēmā Igharas, and Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, who explore ways of remembering and reinterpreting their ancestor’s culture and practices. A number of the works are interactive offering visitors the opportunity to explore and discover the installations for themselves...”

Below, Mariel Belanger connects with guests in a traditional tule mat house that she has created at the gallery. It will be at KAG until October 6.


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There are a tremendous amount of enthralling Indigenous artefacts and works of art in our area, so this list is not comprehensive. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, I do hope it has whet your appetite and inspired you to learn more about the Syilx people who have lived in this area for many thousands of years.

I’d like to leave the final words of this piece to Krystal Lezard:

“For me, what we’re doing right now, in having this conversation, is the meaning of reconciliation. The decision to come here [Sncəwips Heritage Museum] is part of it too. The decision is key. I’m happy to meet people where they’re at and I encourage people to visit us to learn more about the true locals!”