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The Okanagan people, also spelled Okanogan, are a First Nations and Native American people whose traditional territory spans the Canada–US boundary in Washington state and British Columbia in the Okanagan Country region. They call themselves the Syilx (Salish pronunciation: [sjilx]), a term now widely used. They are part of the Interior Salish ethnological and linguistic grouping. The Okanagan are closely related to the Spokan, Sinixt, Nez Perce, Pend Oreille, Secwepemc and Nlaka'pamux peoples of the same Northwest Plateau region.

Okanagan Family Portrait.JPg
Okanagan family, c. 1918
Regions with significant populations
Canada (British Columbia),
United States (Washington)
English, Okanagan (n̓səl̓xcin)
Related ethnic groups
Colville, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Sinixt, Wenatchi, Entiat, Methow, Palus, Sinkiuse-Columbia, and the Nez Perce of Chief Joseph's band


At the height of Okanagan culture, about 3000 years ago, it is estimated that 12,000 people lived in this valley and surrounding areas. The Okanagan people employed an adaptive strategy, moving within traditional areas throughout the year to fish, hunt, or collect food, while in the winter months, they lived in semi-permanent villages of kekulis, a type of pithouse.[1]

When the Oregon Treaty partitioned the Pacific Northwest in 1846, the portion of the tribe remaining in what became Washington Territory reorganized under Chief Tonasket as a separate group from the majority of the Okanagan, whose communities remain in Canada. The Okanagan Tribal Alliance, however, incorporates the American branch of the Okanagan. The latter are part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville, a multi-tribal government in Washington state.

The bounds of Okanagan territory are roughly the basin of Okanagan Lake and the Okanagan River, plus the basin of the Similkameen River to the west of the Okanagan valley, and some of the uppermost valley of the Nicola River. The various Okanagan communities in British Columbia and Washington form the Okanagan Nation Alliance, a border-spanning organization which includes American-side Okanogans resident in the Colville Indian Reservation, where the Okanagan people are sometimes known as Colvilles.

The today Upper Nicola Indian Band, an Okanagan group of the Nicola Valley, which was at the northwestern perimeter of Okanagan territory, are known in their dialect as the Spaxomin, and are joint members in a historic alliance with neighbouring communities of the Nlaka'pamux in the region known as the Nicola Country, which is named after the 19th-century chief who founded the alliance, Nicola. This alliance today is manifested in the Nicola Tribal Association.


The language of the Syilx people is Nsyilxcen. "Syilx" is at the root of the language name Nsyilxcen, surrounded by a prefix and suffix indicating a language.[2] Nsyilxcen is an Interior Salish language that is spoken across the Canadian and U.S.A. border in the regions of southern British Columbia and northern Washington.[3] This language is currently endangered and has only 50 fluent speakers remaining.[3]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ John D. Greenough, Murray A. Roed, ed. (2004). Okanagan Geology. Kelowna Geology Committee. pp. 71–83. ISBN 0-9699795-2-5.
  2. ^ Johnson, M. K. (2012). k^sup w^u_sq^sup w^a?q^sup w^a?álx (we begin to speak): Our journey within nsyilxcn (okanagan) language revitalization. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 35(1), 79.
  3. ^ a b Johnson, Sʔímlaʔx Michele K. (November 2017). "Syilx Language House: How and Why We Are Delivering 2,000 Decolonizing Hours in Nsyilxcn". Canadian Modern Language Review. 73 (4): 509–537. doi:10.3138/cmlr.4040. ISSN 0008-4506.

Further readingEdit

  • Armstrong, Jeannette, and Lee Maracle, Okanagan Rights Committee; Delphine Derickson, Okanagan Indian Education Resource Society, We Get Our Living Like Milk from the Land, Theytus Books, 1994
  • Boas, Franz (1917). Folk-tales of Salishan and Sahaptin tribes. Published for the American Folk-Lore Society by G.E. Stechert & Co.Available online through the Washington State Library's Classics in Washington History collection Includes: Okanagon tales by James A. Teit and Okanagon tales by Marian K. Gould.
  • Carstens, Peter. The Queen's People: A Study of Hegemony, Coercion, and Accommodation Among the Okanagan of Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8020-5893-0
  • Robinson, Harry, and Wendy C. Wickwire. Nature Power: In the Spirit of an Okanagan Storyteller. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1992. ISBN 1-55054-060-2

External linksEdit