Learn about the Syilx country:

Species

Okanagan First Peoples wishes to Acknowledge the South Okanagn Similkameen Conservation Program (S.O.S.C.P.) and the En'owkin Centre for the use of photos on this page.

Animals
Badger
Badger

Badger is the largest of the weasel family and is a very ferocious animal with few enemies. It is said that they are unharmed by snake venom (including the fatal rattlesnake venom) unless the snake strikes his nose. The Badger is a small animal, with short legs and longs claws and when it walks it walks as if its floating across the grass.

To the Syilx people, Badger is used as an method to teach youth not to be clumsy. Badger also teaches youth about grace.
Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Black Bear
Black Bear

Black Bear is generally a lone animal that eats meat, fish and vegetation and are most active during the night.

To the Okanagan people the black bear is culturally significant and is considered a high chief and the eldest of the four food chiefs. (The other food chiefs are Salmon, Saskatoon, and Bitter Root.)

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Nacoma George

Mountain Goat
Mountain Goat

Mountain Goat is a vegetarian and can be found in the rocky mountainous areas above the pine.

To the Okanagan people Mountain Goat is a symbol of strength and agility. Mountain goat is also a food source and its fur and hide is used for many reasons.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Horse

Horses


The horse is a domesticated animal and is said to have been brought to these territories by non-Aboriginals. However, the Horse is included in many ceptikw (Okanagan legends) and is a large part of our culture-as the Okanagan people were a horse culture.

Horse played an important role for the Okanagan people as transportation, agriculture/ farming, war/ raids, and recreational & sporting activities (such as races and rodeo).

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Deer

Deer


Deer feeds on green plants, nuts, corn, trees and twigs. Deer is a good swimmer and a fast runner and said to reach speeds of 35 mph.

Deer is such an important resource for the Syilx that they do not waste any part of this animal. The meat is a large part of the Okanagan diet, The hide is used for making clothes, drums, rattles, blankets and even used when making shelter. The bones and feet are used for making tools and accessories for the Syilx regalia. The brain is even used as part of the process for turning the animal skin into leather.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

PLANTS

Sunflower

The sunflower is one of the largest wild floral species in the coastal mountain and desert regions in the United States and Canada. The specific name for this sunflower species is the Panamint daisy but is generally known as the wild sunflower to the Okanagan people.

Sunflower is not only used as a valuable food source (if it is prepared properly) it is also a marker for the syilx people. The Sunflower is significant to the Okanagan calendar and is a time marker. Sunflower tells the Okanagan people when it is a time to start doing certain things.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Sun Flower




Prickly Pear Cactus

Cactus is shaped like a large flat pod with a yellow flower (as shown) and has many large spines on its body and considered and emergent food source, even in the cold of the winter. It can be cooked on the end of a stick in a campfire with the cactus spines and skin removed.

Cactus is an important plant to the Okanagan people with cultural significance and a spiritual meaning. The cactus is used as a form of protection to the people.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Prickly Pear Cactus



Saskatoon Bush

Saskatoon is a valued food source and was used for many things. The berries were harvested and used in jams, syrups, and as a special dessert mixed with other berries and roots.

To the Syilx, the Saskatoon is one of four food chiefs and is chief of every thing that grows on top of the land. The story of the four food chiefs is part of a book that can be purchased through the Theytus Books publishing company.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Siya Bush
Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily is an endangered species and at risk because of development, logging, grazing cattle and careless recreational sport vehicles that trample the plants. The Mariposa Lily grows in few areas and inhabit the dry hillsides of the Okanagan valley.

Mariposa Lily and was a major source of food for the Syilx people. The bulbs would be in comparison the the potato and was gathered, dried and then stored.The petals of the Mariposa Lily was also used to teach the Okanagan people about balance.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Mariposa Lilly




Aspen Tree

Aspen Tree is mostly distinguished by its nearly round leaves in mature adult trees with irregular rounded teeth. Aspen Trees grow in large groups and science states that the tree survives above ground between 40-150 years while the roots stay alive for thousands of years. The foliage turns a beautiful golden yellow during the fall months.

Aspen Tree is culturally significant to the Okanagan people. Not only in its properties but in the actions of its leaves and branches.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Aspen Tree



Balsalm Tree

Balsam Tree is the most common tree harvested world wide for the pleasure of families during the festive Christmas season. The Balsam is very aromatic and the English word may be derived from the Hebrew bot smin, 'chief of oils,' or bâsâm, 'balm,' and besem, 'a sweet smell.' Opobalsamum is used by Dioscorides to mean 'the juice flowing from the balsam-tree.'

Balsalm roots, bark and boughs have medicinal uses for the Syilx people and are very important to their cultural identity of the Okanagan people.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Balsalm Tree



Black Cottonwood

Black Cottonwood is named for the seeds with the cottony hair that grow in large quantities and are released through the air. ECOmmunity Place in Penticton, BC, Canada is one of the last largest remaining healthy Cottonwood stands in the Okanagan Valley.

Black Cottonwood is significant to the culture of the Okanagan people. The sap buds were medicinally used, the inner layer of paper was gathered from dead/ fallen trees. The dead and fallen trees were hollowed out and used for making canoes.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Black Cotton Wood





Chokecherry Tree
The Choke Cherry tree is usually classified as a shrub, which can sometimes grow into a tree and usually has twisted or crooked trunk. The Choke Cherry generally grows alongside water, the edge of wooded areas and thickets and are between 1 to 4 meters tall. The Choke Cherry berry is small, grows in a cluster of rows alongside the branches and produces round, shiny, black or crimson cherries which are edible.

The Choke Cherry is a medicinal plant and the inner bark was used for adding design to Syilx basketry.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

CherryChoke Tree



Sage Brush
Sagebrush is a shrub or small tree that has coarse hardy silver - gray bush with yellow flowers and can grows up to 3 m (10 feet) in height, but is more typically only 1-2 m tall. Sagebrush needs full sun and likes to grow on western and northern hillside slopes. It needs little water and prefers no water during the Okanagan summer months.

The use of Sagebrush in Okanagan culture is mainly ceremonial and medicinal.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Victoria Baptiste

Sage Brush
BIRDS
Bald Eagle
Bald Eagles

Bald Eagle is a large dark brown colored bird with a white head and white tail feathers and inhabits lakes, rivers, marshes and seacoasts in British Columbia. To many, the Eagle represents freedom and carelessness hence the term "Fly like an eagle".

To the Okanagan people, it is quite the opposite- Bald Eagle is a teacher of commitment since the Eagle does not roam the skies freely and carelessly. Instead they fly for hundreds of miles searching for branches to build their homes and to provide food for their families. Bald Eagle teaches the people about monotonous relations- Bald Eagle has only one mate for life. The Okanagan people say there is much to be learned from the Bald Eagle.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Victoria Baptiste

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl Burrowing Owl is short tailed and long-legged with spotted and bared feathers . The face is framed with white and a blackish collar. They inhabit deserts, plains, fields and airports. This owl feeds on rodents, birds, reptiles, fish and large insects and lives in abandoned burrows.

Burrowing Owl is culturally significant to the Okanagan people and teaches youth about choices. Burrowing Owl teaches Okanagan people about the choices we can make about where we decide to live.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Lewis' Woodpecker
Lewis Wood Pecker Lewis' Woodpecker has a uniquely dark coloring with long wings and tail. Lewis' Woodpecker inhabits open-canopy forests like ponderosa pine, riparian woodlands dominated by cottonwood, and burned pine forests. Lewis's Woodpeckers breed in open forests of pine or cottonwood with ground cover, snags, and insects.

Lewis' Woodpecker is a seasonal indicator to the Syilx people.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Long Billed Curlew
Long Billed Curlew Long Billed Curlew is the largest shorebirds in North America and is one of the most threatened shorebird species on the continent. Long Billed Curlew is identified by their large size and extremely long, down curved bills which can be up to 8 inches in length. They breed on dry grasslands and feed on grasshoppers and other insects.

The Long Billed Curlew is a significant character in Okanagan legends.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Peregrine Falcon
Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon is grayish color with black bars and spots and a black "moustache" on his face. Young Falcons are brownish with a heavily streaked stomach. They are usually silent birds preferring the open country, rivers, lakes and occasionally cities.

The Okanagan people recognized this bird as the fastest with high speed and agility. It is said that he can't be distracted when focused and when he goes after something, he gets it. Peregrine Falcon has in integral role in methodologies used in the early days for cowboys, ranchers and riders.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

FISH/ REPTILES
Bull Snake

Bull Snake is one the the largest snake species and range from 35-75 inches in length and have over 40 large blotches creating a checkerboard look with the side scales bearing brown or black tips. Bull Snakes are generally a harmless snake and will not bite or strike without cause.

Bull Snake was allowed residency in Okanagan camps as they protected the people from the venomous and fatally poisonous Rattlesnake.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Bull Snake
Great Basin Spadefoot Toad

Great Basin Spadefoot Toad is a small amphibian which is gray or olive green in color. His eyes are very large, golden yellow, and set on the sides of his head with vertical pupils. The distinguishing mark of the Spadefoot Toad is the bump between his eyes, giving the head a distinctive shape. Spadefoot's have a bumpy skin and aren't quite as "warty" as Western Toads. In B.C., Spadefoot Toad is found in the dry southern interior.

With many culturally significant features, the Spadefoot is a messenger about weather conditions for what the coming summer would look like.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Great Basin Spadefoot Toad
Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle is easily identified by its colorful shell and lives in marshes, ponds, lakes, and slow moving rivers with soft mud bottoms. They live 20-30 years in the wild and at the most, 20, in captivity.

Painted Turtle is a mythical creature with extreme cultural importance. This reptile and the markings contained on her body are a very important part of the cultural heritage of the Nsyilxcen speaking people.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Painted Turtle



Pygmy Short Horned Lizard

Pygmy Short Horned Lizards have flat bodies with short spines on the head and top of his body, a snub nose and short legs. It is yellowish, red-brown or gray with two rows of large dark colored spots on his back.

This lizard is not culturally significant to the Nation as a whole but not unimportant. This lizard is most commonly found in the desert areas of the Okanagan such as Oliver and Osoyoos and rarely seen; even prior to being listed as an endangered species in the Okanagan.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P

Photographer unknown

Pygmy Short Horned Lizard


Tiger Salamander

Tiger Salamander is a large salamander 6-8 inches in length and generally a dark green with black/gray splotches, a short nose, a thick neck and a long tail.

Tiger Salamander teaches Syilx people about relations AND about choice.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Kym Gouchie

Tiger Salamander
Western Skink

Western Skink is a small, smooth scaled lizard measuring between 5-8 cm from snout to tail with relatively small limbs. She is an agile lizard feeding under dense vegetation and fallen leaves and lives in burrows several times the length of its own body.

The cultural significance of Western Skink to Okanagan's refers to the distractive methods he uses when faced with confrontation.
Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Robert George

Western Skink
Kokanee

Kokanee is a freshwater fish similar to the sockeye but smaller in length and weight.

Kokanee is a major source of food for the Okanagan people and if dried properly, can be stored for up to two years. It is boiled into a soup with only the broth (not the meat) being consumed.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Kickanee
INSECTS
Behr's Hairstreak Moth
Behrs Hairsteak Moth

Behr’s Hairstreak is found only in the Southern Okanagan antelope-brush habitat with an average wingspan of 25-28 mm. Behr's Hairstreak's have an orange-yellow upper side with broad brown borders and the underside of the Behr's Hairstreak wings is darker than most other hairstreak's and has dark spots with white borders.

The Behr's Hairstreak is a marker used to find certain nutritious plants for the Syilx.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P.

Photographer unknown

Black Widow Spider
Black Widow Spider Black Widow females are easily identified by their black glossy color and the red hourglass imprinted on their abdomen and can be up to 1.6 cm in length. Adult male black widows are only half the size of an adult female and are usually dark brown with stripes/ dots of various colors and no hourglass shape.

Black Widows are left alone by the Syilx who are taught never to kill them (or any other spider) in their homes because their mate would wander around tirelessly in search of their mate. If the spider is released outside, the mate would follow.

Photo courtesy of the S.O.S.C.P.

Photogrpaher unknown

Praying Mantis
Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis can adapt to the color of their surroundings, a camouflage of earth tones ranging from dark brown to dark green.

Although Praying Mantis is not Indigenous to the Okanagan territory, their speed is used in the Syilx teachings to Okanagan children. Praying Mantis is the most popular insect amongst children because of his unique shape and was often kept as a 'pet'.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Linda Anderson

Dragonfly
Dragon Fly

Dragon Fly has four black tips on the edge of his translucent wings. To the Syilx, those four spots are a warning to others showing the full length of his outstretched wings. The story about dragonfly demonstrates consideration of those around you and teaches Syilx about thoughtfulness to others and their personal space. Something that, at times, seems to be lost and missed.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly is one of the few insects which manages transatlantic crossings and has been spotted in Bermuda, Great Britain and during the New Zealand summers. Monarchs are black with dark orange/ reddish to bright yellow designs in their wings and often confused with the Giant Swallowtail butterfly (which is yellow and black).

The monarch teaches Syilx children coordination and is culturally significant to the children before they reach their teenage years.

Photo courtesy of the En'owkin Centre

Photographer Richard Armstrong


At this time Okanagan First Peoples wishes to Acknowledge the South Okanagn Similkameen Conservation Program (S.O.S.C.P.) and the En'owkin Centre for the use of photos on this page.