Okanagan Nation Alliance returns Chinook to their historical habitat in Okanagan Falls for first time in 70 years


Historic Chinook return

The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) has reintroduced Chinook salmon above Vaseux Lake at sx???x??nitk? (pronounced S-hoho-neet-kwa) Provincial Park — also known as Okanagan Falls — for the first time in 70 years.

“We are releasing Chinook back into their historical habitat,” says Herb Alec, hatchery building operator for the Penticton Indian Band.

The release — which took place on April 20 — was ceremonial, says Alec. They kept it small, planning “to release a lot more in the coming days and weeks.”

“We’re hoping to achieve the return of the Chinook… big enough numbers that the Okanagan people can go back to subsiding on them, living off them, using them for ceremonial purposes,” he says.

In previous years, the ONA has released Chinook salmon at multiple locations on Syilx Territory — in the Oliver area, along the Penticton river channel and at the En’owkin Centre — to increase their survival rate, he says.

“There are a lot of predators in Vaseux Lake, but this year we did things a little differently,” says Alec. “We raised these fish quite a bit bigger so that they can survive.”

Alec says he’s worked with the hatchery for seven years, and he feels called to be a steward of the water, replenishing fish stocks in the Okanagan’s lakes and rivers as his great-grandfather did.

“My great-grandfather was Martin Louie. He was the Salmon Chief for the Okanagan as well as the upper Columbia,” he says. “I feel like it’s a responsibility being passed down.

“Any time we bring fish back, it’s important to the culture.”

‘Chinook is one of our four food chiefs’

Thousands of years ago, Alec says sx???x??nitk? was a big fishing site for Okanagan Nation members.

“It is culturally significant and that’s why we had a ceremony on it,” says Alec.

sx???x??nitk? translates from nsyilxc?n, the Syilx language, to English as “little falls.” Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band says the place has a cultural connection to the Kettle Falls in Washington state.

In 1915, Louie says the colonial government wrongfully took sx???x??nitk? under the McKenna–McBride Royal Commission, without input or agreement from the Osoyoos Indian Band.

“This was our reserve number two,” says Louie. “[The government] took away a lot of reserve lands and this one was one of the most important fishing grounds for our people.”

Overall, this commission had a “significant impact on Indian peoples’ reserve land base by adding to, reducing and eliminating reserves throughout the province,” according to a summary of the commision by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

Last summer, IndigiNews reported on rising tensions between a local property owner, fishers from the Okanagan Nation and John Kruger, the former Penticton Indian Band Chief, around access to a traditional sx???x??nitk? fishing spot.

“It’s very significant that we have access to our fish at all times,” says Louie.

“Chinook is one of our four food chiefs … It’s part of our heritage and culture and our people fished and gathered here for thousands of years, and it’s our responsibility to make sure the salmon come back.”

The biggest release of Chinook so far

The ONA has been releasing salmon in Okanagan river and lakes to replenish stocks since 2004.

On April 20, the ONA released approximately 500-1000 Chinook salmon into sx???x??nitk?, says Alec.

They’re hoping to see 50-100 Chinook return “at most,” says Alfred Snow, a fishery technician with the ONA. In the future, as they release more Chinook into sx???x??nitk?, they’re hoping to see 3,000-10,000 return, he adds.

This year, ONA released Chinook at several locations along the Okanagan River, which Snow says is “the biggest release of Chinook we’ve had so far.”

“There’s probably about 25,000 in total that will have been released from the hatchery,” he says.

The Okanagan Chinook population has been “designated as endangered,” says Elinor McGrath, the ONA fisheries biologist. She works closely with the Chinook salmon stock assessment and biological sampling program.

“My role is overseeing and enumeration of the Okanagan River and working on Okanagan Chinook recovery,” she says.

This year, a good portion of the Chinook have been tagged with small tags, she says, so they will be detected when they swim over receivers the ONA has placed at spots along the Okanagan and Columbia Rivers.

“We gain a lot of information on their migration behavior, their timing, their survival, where do they go, where might they be dying and what can we do about it,” McGrath says.

“When they come back in four or five years, we understand more information about their returns.”

The ONA is hoping to learn more about Chinooks’ life history, so that ultimately they can bring them back to their original spawning grounds.

“Chinook are important for our ecosystem and cultural reasons. They’re just amazing what they do,” says McGrath. “So personally, I feel that this is really important to maintain and recover these species.”

Osoyoos local on Rust Valley Restorers TV show

Local on Rust Valley show

Local gearhead JF Launier is once again returning to the popular History series Rust Valley Restorers now in its third season premiering this week — featuring one of his favourite projects to date.

Owner of JF Kustoms in Osoyoos, Launier and his shop have been a regularly featured on the series since it debuted in 2018. Rust Valley Restorers follows car collector Mike Hall and his shop in the South Shuswap on his never-ending quest to find junkers across the valley and turn them into sweet rides.

The upcoming third season features of Launier’s best-ever restorations, his brother’s 1951 Chevy truck.

“I got a chance to restore my brother’s truck that he has owned since he was 14 years old. For me, including my dad and my son in the restoration is probably one of my favourite memories of any of the stuff I’ve ever done restoring cars,” Launier said.

Launier’s father and son joined Launier’s brother and his children to chip in on the effort to restore the truck which has been in the family for roughly 25 years.

“I think family has always been important to me, so it was a chance to give back to my family in a way. My parents have always helped me with my career and been there to help me with anything I needed. So it was just a chance to give back,” Launier said.

Launier was familiar with the show’s star Hall and had run into him at a few swap meets prior to the debut of Rust Valley Restorers, but has grown to know the cast a bit more as the series has developed.

“It has been interesting too say the least. Those guys are really unique characters as the show portrays them, and they really are those guys which is cool,” Launier said.

Producers were initially looking to focus a TV show around JF Kustoms, which is still something Launier and his crew are working towards as they have grown the brand on the show.

“I think it’s pretty cool we’re the first series to ever get filmed in Osoyoos. In the South Okanagan for that matter. We’re definitely working hard to get our own TV show at some point, and clearly the exposure we’re getting and the fan base that we’re building is going to help with that,” Launier said.

Following Hall and his co-star/friend/friendly competition Avery Shoaf around the Interior of B.C. as they search for the best rust buckets to bring back to life, Rust Valley Restorers is an accurate portrayal of the car culture in the area according to Launier.

“I actually think the show is really accurate when it represents that stuff. That’s one of the reasons I’m on my third season with them because I feel they’ve represented our shop in a way that I think is fairly accurate,” Launier said.

Not only are Launier and his shop featured in the series, but his employees get in on the action as well.

“We all have fun with it to tell you the truth. There are a bunch of racing episodes this year that are really fun because there are all sorts of rivalry and it’s the JF Kustoms team versus the world. We all have a little fun with that because we’re super competitive,” Launier said.

One of the organizers for the very popular annual car show in Osoyoos, Cactus Jalopies — which has been featured on a previous season of Rust Valley Restorers — Launier says there is some hope the car show will return in 2022.

“For 2021 I think our hope is just to gather the troops and maybe do a non-public car gathering with maybe some discussion on how we’re going to do 2022 at this point,” Launier said.

“(Cactus Jalopies) was one of our first experiences with these guys and the show was actually seen on Netflix. So we had Cactus Jalopies in 190 countries. The level of exposure that we did for Osoyoos B.C. was huge,” Launier said.

Rust Valley Restorers premiered Thursday, Feb. 18 at 9 p.m. on History. For more information visit history.ca.

The Town of Osoyoos turned 75, but how did it get here?

How a Town is born

This article is part two of two exploring the history of the Town of Osoyoos as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. Find part one here.

On Jan. 14, 1946 the small village of Osoyoos became a municipality. The first ever meeting of the Municipality of the Village of Osoyoos was held at the Canadian Pacific Railway station a few weeks later and William Andrews was elected chairman of the board, Gordon Kelly and Joseph Armstrong were elected village commissioners.

In the early days of the village severe flooding in the area led to the channelization of the Okanagan River. Houses in East Osoyoos were surrounded by water during the flood of 1948, one of George G. Fraser’s earliest memories. When he was eight years old, there was a week when he and other students had to hop on a boat on their journey to school in Oliver.

“We lived on the east side, and the bridge that is there now is a replacement of a couple of earlier ones and it’s considerably higher than what was there in 1948. So for just about a week I had to take a boat from where we lived over to town a catch the school bus there. Because at that point, we were being bused to Oliver,” said Fraser.

Fraser, who is still an Osoyoos resident today, is the grandson of George J. Fraser, who authored “The Story of Osoyoos: September 1811 to December 1952.”

“He was George J. and I was George G., so that was the separation,” Fraser said with a laugh.

George J., originally from Alberta, came to Osoyoos in 1917 when the population “jumped from 13 to 17,” Fraser joked. A combination of goings on in the town, historical events and personal history, George J.’s book would become one of the earliest documentations of activities in what would eventually become the Town of Osoyoos.

“I think because he had been here so early, and a great part of the changes that took place, I think he felt it important to document it,” Fraser said.

Aside from taking a boat over flood waters to get to school, Fraser recalls Osoyoos as a village that was “very friendly, very small” in the early days.

The Canadian Pacific Railway would come to Osoyoos in 1944, a memory that stands out for Fraser as he was on the opening run of the new line.

“That was kind of neat and for me it stood out because they ran, I think, two passenger cars on to the locomotive to Penticton. And we got to ride all the way down from Penticton to Osoyoos. Sort of the opening run kind of thing. My parents and myself were on one. I have no idea who else of course,” Fraser said with a laugh.

The population of the small village would continue to grow, with 899 people living in Osoyoos in 1951 around the time when Gayle Cornish and her family moved to Osoyoos from Port Coquitlam. Her earliest memory of Osoyoos includes former landmark water towers which no longer exist.

“We lived in a small house on Highway 97 and the first day I went to school I got lost very far from where we lived, just close to where the water towers were at that time. So that’s one of my first memories,” she said with a chuckle. “But the water tower was always kind of a landmark.”

She recalls Osoyoos as a lovely small village where “everyone knew everyone” and celebrations for Christmas as well as the annual Osoyoos Cherry Carnival, known today as the Osoyoos Cherry Fiesta.

“It was a really good community and we have a lot of good memories from July 1, which has always been celebrated. At that time, it was the Osoyoos Cherry Carnival and it was a very special day for all the kids in town.”

When a group of Osoyoos residents got together in the spring of 1949 to plan the community’s first Cherry Carnival, the idea was to hold an aquatic sports day to raise money for park development. Cornish recalls swimming and raft races and plenty of summertime days on the lake, experiences she would later turn into a career as a swimming instructor and life guard for many years.

“There was a children’s parade, which started first, so a lot of children decorate their bikes and wagons and so forth. And I remember, we made a covered wagon, a chuckwagon, and put our wagon in the parade. I guess I was in Grade 2 or 3 at the time. And then everybody went down to the community hall and it was just a great day.”

Cornish recalls many of the students she went to school with at the time often worked on their family’s farms. The economic focus in the community at the time revolved around fruit orchards.

“One thing I remember quite clearly is there was two packing houses in town and everyone had a connection to the packing house. Everyone worked there. When I was 13 I worked at the packing house sorting cherries,” Cornish said. “Nowadays that wouldn’t be allowed, but then if there was a run on cherries they needed you to come and help. And so that was where, I think, I got my first paycheque was from the packing house.”

The main packing house, one of a few in Osoyoos, was located where the Watermark Resort stands today at the end of Main Street. It was in operation until the 1980s and the building remained vacant through most of the 1990s right up until the Watermark was built. It was a key to agriculture in the area, said Kara Burton, executive director of the Osoyoos Museum and Archives.

“The train station and the train tracks were right there coming to the packing house so fruit and everything could be shipped out quite easily,” Burton said.

The economy would inevitably transition with trains no longer coming into town in the 1970s and the tracks removed in the 1980s. Osoyoos began shifting from majority fruit orchards to the vineyards and tourist-hosting hotels of today.

“The orchards were prominent then,” Cornish recalled. “And now of course, it has switched around and vineyards have been taking over for the last 50 years. So it’s quite a change in the landscape.”

Prior to the Osoyoos Secondary School opening in 1979, there was only one high school serving the Oliver and Osoyoos area, seeing around 800 to 900 students. Much like the rest of the world, Osoyoos was not immune to racism. Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band recalls drop-out rates were higher with Indigenous students at that time.

“Most of the band members would quit school because they couldn’t put up with the racism and it’s not that they were scared of white people. I always say that the white kids had a deep respect for the kids from the Osoyoos Indian Reserve because they know if they picked on the Rez kids the Rez kids would beat them up,” Louie said.

“There can be quiet racism where you know you’re not included and you know you’re not welcome. The drop-out rate was pretty high back then. Kids know when they’re not welcome.”

Louie said he didn’t personally experience much direct racism and touts sports for being a great way to bridge the cultural gaps between communities, but he said he doesn’t see as many inter-community leagues today.

“When I was going to school there in the ‘70s there was what I would call just Indians and whites. I never got picked on, I didn’t notice any racism because I was involved in sports,” Louie said.

“Sports whether on reserve or off has gone down, down, down. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s sports used to be a big thing. The men’s hockey league in Oliver used to be a big thing. All the Rez boys got to know the white kids in town because we played hockey or basketball with them. There’s no more basketball league, there’s no more men’s hockey league. Sports has gone down in this town which really sucks … maybe soccer has gone up,” Louie said. “A lot of relationship building to me comes through sports. A lot of racism can be broken down through sports. All the boys who played hockey, the white guys in town, had a mutual respect because we played on the ice together.”

The Osoyoos Indian Band has been celebrated for its successes as a business enterprise in the past few decades, with Chief Louie leading those efforts to bring economic growth to his community. The OIB owes some of its success to the location of the band’s land, Louie said.

“Even though we had 4,000 acres of our best land stolen, we still had land from which to work with. Even though most of our reserve land is hills and mountains and rocks, we still had some decent land from which to work with,” Louie said. “A majority of my people want to work for a living and they want good development that provides jobs, an income for the band. It’s no different than the mayor and council (of Osoyoos).”

Today the economies of the OIB, Osoyoos and Oliver are greatly intertwined and there are far more job opportunities on the OIB today compared to the early days of Osoyoos.

“What I find kind of neat is so many white people now make a living off of Osoyoos Indian Reserve land where they work at the prison, Spirit Ridge or Area 27 or the wineries, or the upcoming wine village,” Louie said.
“That’s a big reversal.”

Despite the origins of colonialism possibly putting up barriers in the past, the business relationship between the OIB and the surrounding communities is good today, Louie said, and people from outside of the OIB are now enrolling students in the Sen’Pok’Chin School on OIB land, building homes and working on the Osoyoos reserve.

“They’re even bringing their kids to our daycare on the reserve and bringing their kids to our Rez school on the reserve that started in the 1990s,” Louie said. “We have a health clinic here now too and it’s the first time I’ve ever seen in my life where Oliver people are coming to the reserve not only for pre-school and schooling now, but they are even coming to the reserve to see the doctor at our health clinic. That I’ve never seen before and that’s only been recently.”


Long-term care homes grapple with mental health of seniors during pandemic isolation

Isolation can be deadly, too

Long-term care and assisted living facilities in B.C. are facing an increasingly deadly second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks, while at the same time imposing restrictions that leave seniors increasingly isolated.

And the province’s seniors’ advocate Isobel Mackenzie says the government needs to overhaul the measures put in place in the pandemic’s early weeks and ease restrictions on visitors that are depriving residents of essential care and time with loved ones, and which could be costing more lives than they are saving.

Mackenzie said this will be the last holiday season for about a quarter of residents, and the province needs to do everything in its power to support meaningful connection between residents and their families.

“I don’t think it was ever intended that  these measures would be in place for as long as they have been. I think  it was intended to give care operators the opportunity to figure out how  to manage these visits,” she said. “And we just got stuck in how we  started out the visits in July, with how we’re doing the visits now, in  December. We just need to shift that.”

But after 10 months, the restrictions have devastated the physical and mental health of residents and failed to prevent outbreaks as community cases increase.

“The challenge that we are facing right  now, is that this surge in our communities has dramatically increased  the risk in long-term care,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie  Henry on Wednesday.

But earlier in the week Henry noted visitors are not causing outbreaks, which are more often caused by staff  unknowingly spreading the virus.

Mackenzie said health officials should  allow more frequent and longer visits with the designated visitors rather than increase the number of visitors per resident.

“Increasing the frequency of visits, allowing their visits to happen in the privacy of the residence  room, that’s not going to significantly increase the risk at all, and arguably could be decreasing the risk, because the care home is going to  be able to rely on those family members to provide some help.”

Visitors also need to be screened and escorted to the space, rather than finding their way to the residents’ rooms.

“Irrespective of how meaningful visitors’  increased presence will be for the resident, their increased presence is  going to help us as well,” said Mackenzie. “There’s going to be an  extra pair of hands there to help with the feeding, to help with the toilet, to help with things that some of them were helping with before the pandemic.”

Research co-conducted by Farinaz Havaei at UBC’s school of nursing found that during the pandemic’s first wave  residents’ direct nursing care plummeted by about 10 hours per month as facilities scrambled to control the virus.

“If you think about the mental health implications of all of that (stress), and how that influences staff’s work behaviours and decisions when giving care, you can see that the  implications are really huge,” said Havaei.

Oliver residents opposed to proposed emergency winter shelter

No shelter here

The residents of Oliver had a chance to speak to plans for a temporary homeless shelter in the Oliver United Church basement on 511 Church Ave., and the result was a resounding “no.”

Nearly all residents who spoke at the virtual public hearing, held via Zoom, were in opposition to the temporary shelter’s location in a residential neighbourhood. Some put forward common concerns including decreasing property values, property crime and security.

Oliver town council will review the submissions received at the public hearing, and through a surveys available online and at the Town of Oliver office, at their Dec. 14 meeting — but council’s decision on the temporary use permit which would allow the shelter to seek funding from the province likely won’t take place until early 2021.

The proposed eight-bed shelter would be run by Desert Sun Counselling and Resource Centre, in conjunction with an advisory committee made up of community members, and operate Nov. 1 to March 31, but likely not this year. Even if approved, the shelter wouldn’t operate until 2021.

The proposed shelter would also be “high-barrier” meaning drug or alcohol use would not be allowed, nor would visitors, and staff would work with clients to help them attain long-term housing as well as employment.  The proposed hours of operation would be 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Attendees of the virtual public hearing cited specific concerns, including fencing on a common yard with neighbouring properties, and the lack of details on plans for security and intake. Some of those details would be decided by the advisory committee, which won’t be formed unless the temporary use permit application is successful.

“Nobody is guaranteeing me that my kids are going to be safe,” said one neighbourhood resident. “Nobody is saying that the neighbourhood is going to be safe, so I’m going to ask again, what is the security plan? I want details.”

Marieze Tarr, Desert Sun Executive Director, told the public hearing that most of the clients would not likely be suffering from addictions.

“A lot of what I’ve seen on social media, etc., was that there’s a lot of fear around who these people are. That they come from other towns, and actually they don’t. A lot of them live right amongst us and for some other reason they fall on hard times,” Tarr said.

“And people lose their jobs, sometimes we deal with a pregnant women whose partner leaves her during pregnancy and now she finds herself at risk of homelessness. We deal with seniors who have a falling out with children that they live with and have nowhere to go. And in the last couple months I’ve kept a really good count of who we are dealing with. None of the people who we helped were actually addicted to drugs.”

Tarr said security of the staff, clients and neighbours would be a top priority for Desert Sun. However, some residents did not seem convinced. Some attendees suggested a more long-term and permanent social housing solution would be a better option for the town.  All but one speaker at the public hearing agreed that the location of the shelter was the issue, and a perceived lack of planning.

“I cannot comment on a specific security plan because we do not have a specific location where the shelter is going to be located at. We’re talking about possibly applying for a permit for using the United Church tonight. How it works with anything is that you start with a framework, it’s like drawing a picture and you start colouring it in. We don’t have all the answers, I don’t have all the specific details that you think we should and might have because I’m only one person and this shelter is not going to be run by myself,” Tarr said.

The advisory committee would have members of Interior Health, the school district and the RCMP, Tarr said, and they would decide specific details.

“The first step when you’re going to do anything is to possibly find a location. So that is what we are in the process of doing we’re exploring is this a good location?” Tarr said.

“I read a comment just now that I don’t have any empathy for the neighbours who live around the United Church, that’s not true. I never said that I’m not empathic to them. I don’t consider their rights to be any less than anyone else’s. That’s what we are doing tonight is exploring if this is a good location for this shelter or not. And it’s up to the town, not myself, to decide if this is a good location or not.”

“I work with vulnerable people myself. I definitely don’t want anybody living outside and I hate to think that people are,” said one area resident. “We’d like to help but we have big, big concerns about this being in our neighbourhood. We just can’t voice that enough.”

There was one resident who spoke in favour of the location, United Church member John Chapman.

“When I go downtown and I see people around or walk the river banks and I see them out in the cold. It really tears at me when I’m sitting in my cozy home and know that people are out there in cold I don’t want to be outside in for half a minute and they’re having to go through this — and in many cases it’s no fault of their own,” Chapman said.

“I’m talking about the people for whatever reason are not able to cope financially and they need help. I think a lot of preparation and thought has been put into this plan so far. It seems the only concern is the location. However, if there is no other location to be found we must move on this and trust the assurances that Marieze and Desert Sun are giving us.”

Town of Oliver CAO Cathy Cowan said the town is still searching for other possible locations.  The town received roughly 20 survey submissions and over half had concerns about the proposal, according to Randy Houle, director of development services for the Town of Oliver. Submissions can still be made to council, with a deadline of Dec. 9