The Basin is home to a rich and diverse Indigenous peoples’ history, heritage and cultures. Indigenous peoples and First Nations communities in the region have deep relationships to the lands and waters—the significance of which enables spiritual and cultural practices and traditions, as well as reflects social and economic values.

Indigenous peoples and First Nations communities are integral parts of the social, economic and cultural ways of life in the Basin.Indigenous peoples in the Basin face unique challenges and opportunities. Dedicated community members are working hard to advance well-being and build a sustainable future. The Trust respects and values these efforts and is committed to creating lasting relationships that will benefit Indigenous peoples and the Basin at large. The Trust aims to provide support that furthers the aspirations of Indigenous peoples and First Nations communities in the Basin.

Here are some examples:

Youth build relationships with water

In 2018, Ɂaq̓amnik youth (Ktunaxa youth from the community of Ɂaq̓am) have been given a variety of opportunities to focus on water and understand its cultural and ecological significance. To be stewards of the region’s waterways into the future and preserve traditional Indigenous knowledge, engaging young people is critical.

“We are supporting ʔaq̓amnik youth to build their capacity to understand water not just as a resource to be consumed but from a stewardship and cultural knowledge perspective,” says project coordinator Michele A Sam.

“Being on the lands and in the waters heals the intergenerational trauma and stress, not only of the human beings, but also of the knowledge relationships, including the relationship of humans and our homelands and the waters themselves. For some youth, these opportunities are integral first steps to being and becoming water stewards as defined within the Ktunaxa creation story. We will have been in a total of 10 bodies of water within Ktunaxa ʔamakʔis, or territory, by the end of the fall 2018 Columbia Salmon Festival.”

With guidance from Ktunaxa cultural interpreters and water experts, youth connect with water through activities, discussions and meaning making; examine water-related challenges; and develop visions for our waterways’ futures.

ʔaq̓amnik and Ktunaxa youth grow into water stewards and will be able to encourage other youth across the Basin to develop respectful long-term relationships with water.

Ɂaq̓amnik youth take to the Kootenay River to learn about water.
Ɂaq̓amnik youth take to the Kootenay River to learn about water.

A community gathering place

In August 2018, Tobacco Plains Indian Band members gathered at the site of the new Community Administration & Health Centre—the community’s first true multi-use community building.

Now that construction is complete, community members have a safe and welcoming space where they can come together and access services geared toward health and wellness, employment and training, and cultural heritage. The new centre combines several amenities that either didn’t exist before or were scattered in smaller, outdated locations.

“Can you believe we were here over a year ago for the groundbreaking ceremony?” asks Nasuʔkin (Chief) Mary Mahseelah. “I am proud we now have a space that meets the needs of our people.”

With a culturally relevant look that included community members in the design process, the building houses the community’s administration, a health centre, meeting spaces and a gymnasium. This gives the residents a place to gather and interact, exercise and use wellness facilities. It will enable the Tobacco Plains administration to increase services and programming, add employment opportunities and stay in touch with community members.

The Trust has also supported other facilities in First Nations communities, including a recreation centre at Ɂakisq̓nuk, near Windermere, which is the largest project the community has ever undertaken. The 22,400-square-foot sports complex will house a gymnasium, elevated walking and running track, exercise room, locker rooms, team rooms and a kitchen and seating area. It will also include office space for the Ɂakisq̓nuk administration.

Showing some mussel

Freshwater mussel species like the western pearlshell, winged floater and other floater species live in lakes, streams and rivers across British Columbia, including in the Basin.

Traditionally harvested as a food source by First Nations, freshwater mussels are also a natural filter for their aquatic environments—one adult mussel can filter over 100 litres of water per day—and have been linked to the health of fish species. And yet they’ve been largely overlooked in conservation and management planning. Now the Ktunaxa Nation Council, Okanagan Nation Alliance and Secwepemc Nation have joined forces to learn more about these mussels.

Since 2016, First Nations scientific teams have been studying these culturally and ecologically important mussels in the Basin. Where do the mussels live? What kinds are there? Roughly how many are there? Last year the group added another question: Are these mussels toxic or are they safe for human consumption?

So far, this work has mapped six types of mussels living in over 100 locations and collected samples for toxicity testing.

“We have increased our knowledge of freshwater mussel distribution, abundance and species present within the Basin,” says Michael Zimmer, Fisheries Biologist, Okanagan Nation Alliance. “Also, this project helped us grow our technical skills and provided the opportunity to collaborate, learn from one another and build relationships between the three nations.”

The ultimate goal is to make all Basin residents more aware of the freshwater mussels in our region and their traditional uses.

Three First Nations are studying freshwater mussels in the Basin.
Three First Nations are studying freshwater mussels in the Basin.

New and affordable housing

When it comes to housing, members of the Shuswap Indian Band often face high rents and few options. They may have to live in overcrowded homes with other family members due to a lack of housing options, especially if they’ve left the community and then decided to return.

To help remedy this, in spring 2018 the Shuswap Indian Band built two new duplexes in the Old Village—the first time in 30 years that homes have been built in the community. The buildings contain two two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom units, and can house approximately 13 tenants with low-to-moderate incomes.

Given the costs of the project, the community reached out to the Trust to explore a partnership. The Trust provided support through its new First Nations Housing Sustainability Initiative, a three-year, $4.5-million commitment to help First Nations communities enhance and increase stocks of affordable housing.
“We moved in four families on July 1,” says Dolores Nicholas, Social Development/Housing Manager. “We now have four young families living on reserve near family and friends. Our goal is to build more units in the near future.”