Through participation in Westside Culture Days, Westbank First Nation (WFN) reclaimed its’ culture, heritage and identity as a vibrant First Nations community in the Central Okanagan region of British Columbia. Culture Days’ Elvira Truglia spoke to Tracy Satin and Jordan Coble about the groundbreaking initiative between the First Nations community and the District of West Kelowna. Tracy Satin is the Heritage Officer/ Curator at the Sncəwips Heritage Museum and Jordan Coble is the Curatorial and Heritage Researcher at Sncəwips Heritage Museum.
Culture Days: Why did the Westbank First Nation get involved in Culture Days?
Tracy Satin: Westbank First Nation (WFN), through the Sncəwips Heritage Museum, was approached by artist Julia Trops to build, help facilitate and participate in Culture Days as a way of acknowledging, including, and incorporating local First Nation artists and cultural workers in this important Canada-wide initiative. The Westside of Kelowna is made-up of two separate and distinct government jurisdictions: the District of West Kelowna (DWK) and WFN (Tsinstikeptum Indian Reserve No. 9 and No. 10), a Nation who has an inherent connection to the Valley and has been living here since people have walked on this great land expanse. On the Westside there are no distinctly outlined areas that ostensibly show the delineation of both communities. Culture Days was a perfect way to create an awareness and understanding of the area and have people outside of the WFN community learn about local First Nation arts, culture and lands in a positive and supportive environment.
Culture Days: Culture Days activities took place at the Westbank First Nation Sncəwips Heritage Museum, also known as “the voice of the community”. One of your activities literally involved giving a voice to the Okanagan language, which is still on the list of endangered languages. How important was this activity to the community?
Jordan Coble: The Okanagan/Nsyixcən language is the foundation on which our Nation was built. It connects us but also contains deep knowledge about our history, the land itself, and our experiences throughout time. Although the language is endangered, there are steps in place for its revitalization on various levels so that it can be accessible and enjoyable to learn. Language awareness is part of the Sncəwips Heritage Museum's mandate; to be able to provide basic language classes that were open to the public can been seen as a metaphor that represents people from various backgrounds coming together to learn more about one another and speak each others' languages. It is of the utmost importance that our own community members have an appreciation and a willingness to learn the language. At the same time, the more the general public is made aware of the importance of our language, the more likely we will be able to move forward together, as one community celebrating diversity.
To be able to provide basic language classes that were open to the public can been seen as a metaphor that represents people from various backgrounds coming together to learn more about one another and speak each others' languages. - Jordan Coble
Culture Days: What other activities were undertaken during Culture Days?
Tracy Satin: Westside Culture Days saw 55 events take place over the weekend. Eighty artists and forty businesses from both WFN and DWK all came together to create a true sense of Westside community; something that had really not ever happened before on such a scale.
The Sncəwips Heritage Museum then went to Chief and Council and requested that a Culture Days Proclamation be presented. It was emphasized that this was WFN’s chance to publicly support arts and heritage in the Community for the greater community. At the following Chief and Council meeting a resolution was passed and the Culture Days Proclamation was signed.
With a Culture Days Proclamation made by the Westbank First Nation Chief and Council, Westside Culture Days was about community interaction and community support because we all believe in the celebration of culture. Bringing together artists and business in such a positive, enlightening and fun way is what made Westside Culture Days such a great success. Respect and understanding was at the forefront of all of the activities and the end result was a real sense of cultural community here on the Westside. It brought people together who may not have normally met or worked together. People from the surrounding communities who participated were able to see the vast amount of cultural diversity everyone here has to offer.
From this success the Suk’ʷtəmsqilxʷ West Kelowna Arts Council was formed. Incorporated in January 2015, SWAC is made up of a diverse group of people passionate about Okanagan culture and the promotion of its people. The nsyixcən word suk’ʷtəmsqilxʷ means half indigenous/half non-indigenous and signifies the arts, culture and heritage bond that is between WFN and the surrounding communities.
Although Culture Days celebrates diversity, it also ensures that Okanagan culture is recognized as a distinct culture among the hundreds of Aboriginal cultures across Canada. - Jordan Coble
Culture Days: How did the Westbank First Nation involvement in Culture Days create a bridge between First Nations and the West Kelowna community at large?
Jordan Coble: There are often cultural barriers; decades of racial policies prevent people from reaching out beyond the borders of the reserve, and prevent people from coming into our community to share in our culture. There are also prevalent assumptions that are made which homogenize Aboriginal people which need to be addressed and corrected.
Culture Days allows our local artists to showcase their talents in a very open and welcoming space throughout the entire community. Being able to represent ourselves on this stage educates the public in a way that is engaging and comfortable for everyone to take in. Culture Days encourages everyone involved to focus on aspects of the community that we can all agree on despite our differences. Events that bring together people from various backgrounds creates awareness and more importantly, a better appreciation for one another.
Although Culture Days celebrates diversity, it also ensures that Okanagan culture is recognized as a distinct culture among the hundreds of Aboriginal cultures across Canada. This establishes pride among our artists who are able to take ownership and acknowledge their responsibility as an important voice in the community, and representative in their own right. This builds confidence in our community members while making aspects of our culture accessible to anyone who is interested, which is a very positive experience. We are a very proud people in many regards, arts and culture included.
We have taken on the responsibility of helping to break-down First Nation stereotypes and foster understanding and acceptance as part of the story of Canada and its Peoples, after all this is what Culture Days is all about. - Tracy Satin
Tracy Satin: Through WFN and Museum participation in Culture Days, we were able to present the nuances of First Nation arts and culture in the Okanagan. We provided and contributed to a comfortable space to share and present a more well-rounded and well-balanced understanding of Westbank First Nation and the greater Syilx Nation arts and culture. We have taken on the responsibility of helping to break-down First Nation stereotypes and foster understanding and acceptance as part of the story of Canada and its Peoples, after all this is what Culture Days is all about.
From all of this, both Westbank First Nation and the District of West Kelowna have been gifted with the new Suk’ʷtəmsqilxʷ West Kelowna Arts Council whose number one mandate is “To create a symbiotic relationship between Westbank First Nation and West Kelowna where both sides flourish through the arts”.
Culture Days: What impact did your involvement in Culture Days have in your community?
Jordan Coble: We were honoured to be able to take part in Culture Days alongside so many talented artists and contributors, including the many supportive businesses that celebrated the inclusion of culture. We will always acknowledge that our community can do more to support culture and language so this was an opportunity for WFN and myself to put our energy into action. Offering basic language lessons recognizes our Museum as more than just a space to experience some aspects of WFN and the Okanagan Nation’s heritage and history but engage in the living culture that exists in the people and place that we call our home, our təmxʷulaʔxʷ. Although our Museum has many aspects of our history represented throughout the space, it’s been designed in a way to showcase how the knowledge of our ancestors and elders are applied in the contemporary world, and how this knowledge can be used and celebrated in the future. Being able to use our history in an active and engaging way reinforces this initiative while dismantling the notion that First Nations people and culture is something from the distant past and no longer relevant.
Because of our involvement in Culture Days, opportunities for artists and business were created. More importantly, Culture Days provided a multitude of spaces for people from various cultural backgrounds to interact and engage in meaningful and insightful discussions.
Culture Days also gave confidence to our local WFN artists, many of which are very humble about their gifts. Being able to stand tall and proud of their talents and being able to reach out to the greater community is something to celebrate in and of itself.
Culture Days: You are receiving an award to honour your efforts in creating Cities for People – what is your vision for Westbank First Nations in the future?
Jordan Coble: I am very excited about the future of Westbank First Nation. We have had and still have many leaders at various levels who have ensured the voice of the people is heard and understood. We are now beginning to celebrate the dedication of these people, the strength of our ancestors, and the vibrant energy of the young ones in an inclusive and open way. In this way, our ancestors still walk on the path alongside our members as a reminder of who we are as beautiful, resilient and very humorous people. In this way we are able to create a beautiful community that is entrenched in the wisdom and language of our ancestors so that our future generations will grow up to carry on our proud legacy. Being able to open up our community for everyone to experience will allow us to address many of the hardships we are facing because of the unsustainable ways in which we live. We will be able to use the knowledge based on thousands of years of experience to move forward together for the betterment of all our children and future generations.
Our language will be revitalized and because of that, our people will be healthy once again. Learning who we are and where we come from is crucial to our healing process. We are accountable to our people in so many ways from the grassroots level to our elected leadership. We are able to address very serious and important issues in a respectful way, which hasn’t always been the case but is very important in ensuring perspectives are understood with open hearts and minds. Most importantly, we are thinking long-term, seven generations down the road, to make sure our children grow up being proud of who they are knowing they have a role to fulfill in our community. Our relationship with the greater community is only growing stronger and it’s because of events like Culture Days that this momentum will lead to strong communities that celebrate diversity of cultures and people in a good way.
From all of this, both Westbank First Nation and District of West Kelowna have been gifted with the new Suk’ʷtəmsqilxʷ West Kelowna Arts Council whose number one mandate is “To create a symbiotic relationship between Westbank First Nation and West Kelowna where both sides flourish through the arts”. - Tracy Satin
Find out more about all the 2014 Culture Days award winners.
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