indigenous people drumming on hillside

Four Ways to Connect to Syilx Culture on their Vernon Homelands

To truly understand a place, you have to get to know its people. Vernon, the Okanagan Valley and far beyond are all part of syilx Homelands, and the syilx Nation as a people bring a rich, land-based perspective to travels and experiences on their traditional territory.

Here are four ways to delve into syilx culture on your next visit to Vernon BC, to refresh your perspective and enrich your next Vernon adventure.

Syilx food and culture

Connecting to culture through local food offerings is a great way to fuel up for a day of adventure around Vernon. 

“It’s like a cruller with meat!” says photographer Niall Pinder (whose pictures are featured here). Shane Miller, owner of BannockSlap Burgers, smiles. 

“Bannock is the hidden gem, it ties people to our culture through food.” Some weekends Miller is on the road with his popular food truck but most times you’ll find him just off Westside Road at the entrance to the nk'maplqs reserve (Okanagan Indian Band lands).

chef making bannock burger

Just a bit further down Westside Road is Coyote Coffee & Ice Cream. After four years as Okangan Indian Band’s youngest councillor, Ryan Oliverius opened his cafe in 2023 to meet a local demand. The shop includes an Indigenous clothing and retail presence with local makers. Why Coyote?

“He was known for being a trickster,” says Oliverius. “My grandpa was called senkl'ip so it’s a nod to him.”

people sitting inside teepee at table

Vernon viewpoints with syilx significance

Viewpoints are sacred spaces for the syilx people. Hike to the top of Turtle Mountain or Silver Star Foothills to take in the lands around you, and their immensity. While there, you may catch a fragment of song on the wind.

Part of traditional teachings that syilx Youth—like Kelsie Marchand’s children skookamina and kolet—learn is responsibility for the land. Viewpoints like Turtle Mountain and the Silver Star Foothills are places for them to learn their bearings, and to practice drumming and singing as part of their culture.

“The Okanagan Song is a song celebrating that we are Okanagan people, connected to the land, with its beauty—and the preservation of that beauty is what keeps us beautiful,” says Marchand.

While showing the area to recently, skookamina shared the “Okanagan Song” from atop Turtle Mountain, which you can hear in this video.

people standing on hillside overlooking valley

Visit the K'nmalka Senqâlten

At Okanagan College take a tour through the K'nmalka Senqâlten (Kalamalka Indigenous Garden), led by a syilx guide who will include traditional plant life & its value brought to his people.

“The correct name for the garden is K'nmalka Senqâlten, but we call it The Indigenous Garden for short,” explains guide Justen Peters.

“Someone can expect on one of our tours, knowledge about the Okanagan First Nation's history, some of the culture, the stories and plant knowledge about the medicines that grow in the North Okanagan.”

You can read more about the garden in this feature.


Connect to the water and the past

At the most southern shores of Canoe Beach, on an inlet of Okanagan Lake, you’ll find interpretive signage introducing the history, language and meaning to this spot.

“Canoe Beach was utilized for trading, ceremonies, celebrations, fishing, hunting and for gathering food,” explains Kelsie.

“It’s nice to have the recognition here. Now when people come here, they know it’s ours,” says 17 year-old kolet.

indigenous people at lake connecting with water

Such efforts provide context to a Vernon visit that deepen one’s understanding of place. The land, and its beauty, have informed the syilx culture and their presence here since time immemorial. See the land and explore it through this perspective, and it will fill you with the same beauty.

Article by Jim Barr