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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Okanagan water systems : an historical retrospect of control, domination and change Sam, Marlowe


In this study, I examine the history of colonial control, domination, and change that began in the Interior Plateau region of British Columbia in 1811 when interaction between the Syilx (Okanagan) and European explorers first occurred. I focus on water use practices in particular, employing an indigenous Syilx approach (En’owkinwixw) in order to display the negative impacts of colonial policies on the Syilx and their environment. The En’owkinwixw methodology, which calls for the incorporation of multiple perspectives, is thousands of years old, but has been modified here from its original consensus-based decision-making process. The manner in which the U.S. government developed resource and water management policies in America’s arid Far West directly influenced the models that were later adopted by British Columbia and Canada. U.S. Supreme Court decisions along with a number of international treaties and trade agreements between the United States and Canada have also compromised the ability of the Syilx to maintain a sustainable and harmonious relationship with their environment. Depression era policies in the United States led to the implementation of large-scale projects such as the damming of the Columbia River that had further negative consequences on the environment of the Interior Plateau. The Columbia River had been the destination for the world’s most prolific salmon migrations but their numbers dropped abruptly after the dams were built. In 1954, on the British Columbia side of the border, a flood-control project was completed that channelized a section of the Okanagan River that meandered between Okanagan and Skaha Lakes. Oral testimonials from Penticton elders are presented to demonstrate the severity of biological loss and give eyewitness accounts of the negative social, economic, cultural and political impacts caused by this radical alteration to the river. Evidence from four traditional knowledge keepers who continue to live near the confluence of Shingle and Shatford Creeks on the Penticton Reserve, indicates that water loss and ecological degradation in this area were caused by upstream water users outside of reserve boundaries. The study concludes with a proposal for the development of a collaborative and restorative ecological model based on application of the En’owkinwixw epistemology.

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