The Okanagan lifestyle is a predominance of tribal culture and primitive customs. Okanagan is a region that lies in the Canadian province of British Columbia surrounded by pine forests and a huge Okanagan lake stretching along its length that reflects a picture of a landscape on every turn as you move.
The Okanagan people reside in an area of 690,000 sq. kilometers midway Vancouver and Alberta. The Okanagan Nation Alliance comprises of bands including the Okanagan Indian bands, Lower Similkameen India band, Osoyoos Indian band, Upper Nicola Band, Penticton Indian Band, Westbank First Nation, and the Colville Tribes.
The Okanagan people are also known as ‘Okanogan,’ who hold strong to their ancestral practices and way of life. They are known to the world as Sylix, a term that defines the history of the union between the present-day Okanagan bands and the European fur traders.
The Okanagan valley is separated abruptly into two zones with the Okanagan falls in the middle connecting the two. One is the Transition Zone which is located on the north end of the Okanagan Valley and other, the Upper Austral Zone which is to the south end of the Okanagan Valley.
Okanagan Lifestyle – Shelter and livelihood
The residents of Okanagan valley use brushwood and skins of animals to build shelters along the banks on the barren lands. They cover the wooden frames using foliages from forest and animal skins or furs.
During the winter, to survive the harsh cold weather, they live in underground shelters or pithouses and live along the riverside throughout the summer. Each shelter is occupied by two hunting parties or families.
Okanagan Lifestyle – Language and religion
The typical Okanagan language is Syilix which is common to all Okanagan tribes. It is also commonly known as Salish language which arose from an indigenous tribe based on the banks of the Okanagan River.
The natives believe in their land gods who endowed them with fertile grounds and useful resources like water and fresh forest fruits. The Spotted Lake is sacred to them for it is believed to have magical powers that can cure medical conditions.
Okanagan Lifestyle – Festivals and events
The major celebrations include dinner parties while grooving and feasting around bonfires. Instruments like drums and rattles are employed to create sounds. The Okanagan community form groups and dance to the tunes of their folk songs. Okanogans lift their spirits and spread joy by organizing feasts and dancing once in a while.
Majorly, they have four different dance styles. They are the war dance, which involves putting on a fight, the scalp dance, which they use to signify their achievements and glories, the guardian spirit dance, where boys turn into men and the religious dance where they offer prayers to their sacred gods. The most peculiar sundance is performed to comprehend the longest and shortest days of the year.
Climate and Geography
The Okanagan Valley is carpeted by fruit orchards, wineries, and parks on every inch of the land. The green vegetation at the foot of the hills is another thing to love about the Okanagan lifestyle.
The climate is adverse and extreme with harsh winters and hot summers yielding a dry landscape along the lakeshore. Areas that lie on the north end of the valley receive more rainfall and are considerably cooler than the areas that lie to the south.
Agriculture and Economy
The agricultural industry of the Okanagan valley is the key factor that is driving them since the historical period. The agricultural practices were introduced in the population by cattle ranchers, wheat farmers and British aristocratic families that began crop farming and harvesting of fruit crops on lands. The cultivated lands grow more vegetation with a greater elevation of the coastal plains.
The vegetation primarily involves fruits and vineyards. People to the south of the valley mainly grow sagebrush and cactus while those to the north grow Cedar and Hemlock trees. The lands chiefly produce grape varieties of a spectrum of sweetness.
About 60 grape varieties are grown on the productive lands of the valley including dessert wines, ice wines, and fortified wines. The widespread grapevine cultivation and the vine industries aim at serving the community with a complimentary wine to the farm-derived foods.
Food habits and Okanagan lifestyle
The Okanagan community is known for depending on forest cover and animals for food and livestock. The tribes are accustomed to fishing, hunting, and gathering while collecting fruits, berries and barks on their way.
They have been feeding on deer, salmon, rabbit, elk, caribou, black bear, big-horned ship, marmot, beaver, squirrel and other animals native to the lake and riverside along the Okanagan valley. The fertile land along the banks of the river have productively produced adequate fruits and vegetables serving the tribal population for ages.
Clothing and style
The Okanagan men wear long clothes consisting of mocassins, long leggings with a belt and headgear or headband. The women wear short leggings, long dresses, and a headband. Their clothing is typically made from animal skins and furs. Often, they use the forest foliage to cover their bodies.
The Okanagan Valley
The prominent tourist destination is the Okanagan Valley that is densely encircled by cascade mountains and vibrant crop vines on either side. The mountains appear palisading the greenery providing as a scenic place and an excellent nature’s view for tourists to rush here for a break.
The pristine lakes, fed by rivers, link the diverse regions of the valley. The moisture-mediated climatic factors prevailing on the banks of the river serve in facilitating the growth of healthy vines along the shore. The meadows on the hill-side present hues of bright green and yellow that enhance the view and captivate the tourists.
The Okanagan desert – The Osoyoos Desert
The semi-arid area lying to the south of the valley forms the Okanagan desert filled with dry, low growing shrubs and is home to a number of endangered and threatened species. The desert falls among North America’s most endangered ecosystems.
The grasslands of the Osoyoos region experience hot and dry summers and being situated near the Great-Basin desert, it experiences typical dry climate and sustains distinct vegetation in the region. Several species of flora and fauna are unique to this desert and the desert is an antelope-brush ecosystem that is rejuvenating with facilitated ecological restoration.
The threatened species are thriving with the elimination of invasive species and many native species have been revived by employing seed-mixing strategies to turn the dead bushes into green vineyards. For the Osoyoos Indian band, protecting the desert equals to preserving their Sylix culture and presents an environmental concern.