Thank you to Westbank First Nation members and businesses, plus the Okanagan Fish Hatchery, for participating.
Article originally published on ZenSeekers by Rebecca Bollwitt (aka Miss604) in Fall of 2019.
The Bear, the Fish, The Root, and the Berry; what a curious name for a restaurant I thought. I was spending one last night in Oliver before heading up through Penticton and on to Kelowna during my #OkanaganExploring expedition. The fine dining establishment at Spirit Ridge was named after the Four Food Chiefs of the syilx/Okanagan Nation. Little did I realize that these four would become the theme for my adventure the following day.
I started my morning at the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) fish hatchery at the En'owkin Centre in Penticton (temporarily closed), where 12.9 million salmon fry have been hatched and released into nearby creeks and rivers over the last few years. A sign out front says: “tmixw,” which means “that which gives us life” in the syilx/Okanagan language.
Please note this video was filmed in 2019, many COVID-19 measures are now in place for the businesses visited in this video.
“ONA’s mandate is the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of aquatic resources,” said our tour leader Zeke Terbasket, explaining how salmon are raised from egg to fry every year and then released into creeks and streams when wild fry are hatching, matching the natural lifecycle. “This will help create a healthy ecosystem; it’s a way of monitoring that the environment is doing as well.”
The hatchery has incubation rooms and raceways, high-tech resources to get the fish to 3-5 grams in size. “Late September to early October is where the salmon run occurs. It’s a 1,300-km journey from the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Okanagan River in Oliver. They have to hop over 13 different dams to make it this way.”
Like the salmon making their way through the region's network of lakes and rivers, I travelled north to Kelowna - an ideal hub for any Okanagan adventure, and education.
It’s a long journey, but a very important one for the lifecycle of the salmon, and the lakes and rivers.
Photo by: Rebecca Bollwitt
The hatchery works with more than 20 schools, from Vernon to Osoyoos, including Castlegar and Trail, to provide aquariums in classrooms, from preschool to secondary, so students can raise salmon and be part of the hatchery’s fry release event.
My next stop, just up the road on Highway 97 in West Kelowna, was Indigenous World Winery. “A winery is an amazing way to bring people together to share amazing culture and stories,” Ryan Widdup said, pouring a sample into a guest’s glass in the Westbank tasting room. When he placed the bottle on the counter, I noticed the artwork of a bear on the label.
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt (Photo was taken Fall 2019)
“We share Indigenous culture in three different ways,” he continued. “The first being the stories of the people through the names of the family, which are the names of the wines.” Terroir takes on a new meaning here while connecting the grapes and flavours through the land but also this land telling people's stories.
In the Kelowna area, some of the terroir is influenced by volcanic rock and mineral deposits from Mount Boucherie, remnant of an ancient volcano. You can hike the Mount Boucherie Trail to get a bird's eye view of the whole city, and maybe you'll even sense n'ha-a-itk, the spirit of the lake.
“The second way we try to share the culture is the imagery on the bottles, with animals that have significance.” The Viognier bottle was teed up once again to splash its contents into an awaiting glass. “The third way is single-vineyard series wines which are small lots of premium grapes from the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, so the traditional territories of the syilx/Okanagan Nation, and it lets you taste the land that has nurtured their people for the last 10,000 years.”
Photo by: Rebecca Bollwitt (Photo was taken Fall 2019)
Founded by Robert Louie (Chief of the Westbank First Nation until 2016) and his wife Bernice, Indigenous World Winery has a beautiful tasting room and shop, serving up world-class wines.
Saskatoon berry bannock with a Saskatoon berry smoothie on the side? I arrived at Kekuli Bannock Cafe in West Kelowna just in time for lunch. The sweet and savoury options of the golden fry bread called my name. They have a new sage, cranberry venison taco on their handmade bannock, as well as a traditional wild smoked salmon on bannock. The Saskatoon tea is loaded with dried fruit and rose and hibiscus, if you’re looking for another berry option. The Saskatoon berry is high in fibre, protein and antioxidants and is native to North America.
Photo by: Rebecca Bollwitt
Founded by Sharon Bond-Hogg, and with locations in Merritt and West Kelowna, Kekuli serves up traditional ambience, light powwow music, artwork, and jewellery in its cozy cafe setting. It’s always worth a pit-stop at Kekuli to pick up gourmet berry bannock (with a side of s’mores, lemon butterhorn or raspberry coconut for good measure).
In the early spring, artist Janine Lott plants gourd seeds in her garden. They grow all summer long. She hand-pollinates them, and in the late summer/early fall the plants start to die back with the first frost, which starts to dry the gourds - and so begins her artistic process.
“Gourds can teach us a lot about life,” said Janine as the late afternoon sunshine streamed into the window of her Westbank studio. She was etching one of her designs onto a dried, hollowed out fruit from her garden. “They have been able to adapt to different environments over the centuries and thrive and survive. They have the ability to float in the ocean current for up to seven years and land on different continents. They adapt and flourish.”
Janine say that a lot of cultures believe gourds reflect the essence of a woman, with their shape and the ability to sustain life inside with its seeds.
“My inspiration comes from nature, our First Nations people, our stories, and our general interaction with our environment and natural laws. Stories that I’ve heard, our pictographs, stories I’ve heard from elders along the way.”
She does some sales direct from her studio, around Westbank, West Kelowna, and at the Kelowna Visitor Centre on the waterfront at Queensway Avenue. When visiting Kelowna, this is a great starting point.
Along with local artwork like Janine's, the Kelowna Visitor Centre provides tons of information so you can plan your trip and daily activities, and has a wide variety of branded merchandise - including some great Love For Kelowna tumblers, growlers, hats, and shirts.
Photo by: Rebecca Bollwitt
Outside the Visitor Centre, you’ll also find a statue and monument to syilx Okanagan Chief, swkncut. During his time as chief, he maintained the central idea of peace between the syilx people and settlers over a century ago. Known for his peacekeeping and communications that maintained a balance of cultures, his statue points his feather fan across the lake toward the Westbank First Nation, in a meaningful gesture, frozen in time.
Your last stop on this journey, which for me was inspired by the Four Food Chiefs, should be at Okanagan Select tasting room in Westbank, where you can shop sustainably caught seafood and fish. They have candied salmon, salmon jerky, cold smoke sockeye, hardwood smoked sockeye, maple or alder smoked salmon - and I even spotted some scallops. Pair your haul with a bottle from Indigenous World Winery and you’ll have a true taste of the syilx/Okanagan culture, land, and water - and one very enjoyable meal.
Article originally published in November 2019 and had been updated for accuracy