Tommy Gregoire is immortalized on the left side of Vernon’s Okanagan Indian Band mural, which was completed by Michelle Loughery and her team in 2001. If you are interested in learning more of the stories behind the murals, take a tour

This weekend marks the 2022 Historic O’Keefe Ranch’s Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.

Considering that the first non-Indigenous settlements to emerge in the Okanagan Valley were cowtowns—communities that appeared at the junction of railroads and livestock trails—Vernon has long boasted a healthy population of cowboys.

Men like Cornelius O’Keefe are often remembered for participating in the Okanagan Valley cattle drives of the 1860s, but even during their time, it was known that the best ropers and riders belonged to the Okanagan Nation. For instance, the Gregoire Family alone included several generations of talented equestrians.     

As told in the book Q’Sapi: A History of Okanagan People as told by Okanagan Families, Francois Gregoire (1865-1944) was a successful rancher who owned a large herd of horses, some of which were used for racing and others for farming. By 1915, he owned a threshing wheat separator which he rented out to other ranchers.

Francois’ son Tommy (1901-2000) also went on to become a well-known rodeo rider. A celebrated Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Tommy was an adamant advocate for Indigenous rights and freedoms, who, along with his wife Mary, ensured that his children learned nsyilxcən.

Tommy’s son Leonard (1929-2013) was a self-proclaimed cowboy from the start who began exercising his grandfather Francois’ horses at only eight years old. He later worked as a rodeo contractor with his father, and learned to ride broncos and bulls. He even went on to earn six track records in Canada and the U.S. racing quarter horses and thoroughbreds.

Like his father and grandfather, Tommy was proud to be fluent in nsyilxcən, and passed along his teaching to his own grandchildren and other little ones at the Okanagan Language Nest.

 

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

 

Looking south from Middleton Mountain over what used to be Long Lake Reserve #5 circa 1950.

Ancestral Territory

It comes as a surprise to many that one of Vernon’s most popular summer destinations, Kal Beach, is located on what used to be reserve land.

Kal Beach as it now appears. Photo courtesy of Michael Russell Photography.

Needless to say, the ancestral territory of the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation comprised much of Kalamalka Lake; the lake, which bore the name Long Lake up until 1953, is named after Chief Kalamalka after all. Moreover, members of the OKIB still reside on land around the lake where historical villages once stood.

An image from the Final Report of the Royal Commission’s decision in regards to reserves in the Okanagan region. The full report can be viewed online.

However, little evidence remains to mark the bounds of Long Lake Reserve #5, which once stretched from approximately Kal Beach to what is now the Kalavista subdivision. The reserve was allotted in 1877 by the Joint Indian Reserve Commission, established two years earlier by the Federal and Provincial Governments to set the boundaries of reserve land in B.C.

In 1909, Hlakay (also known as Pierre Nequalla), Chief of the Nk’maplqs (Head of the Lake) Band, opposed a sale of the land, suggesting that grave irregularities had occurred in obtaining proper surrender permissions; this was later confirmed by the Federal Government and the sale was set aside. However, in 1913, the land was “cut-off” under the McKenna McBride Royal Commission.

Mckenna mcbride royal commission

The stated goal of this commission (named after the two men who signed it into effect, federal commissioner Joseph McKenna and BC Premier Richard McBride) was to adjust the acreage of reserves in B.C., based on gathered evidence from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples as to their adequacy. As a result of the commission, an additional 87,000 acres of reserve land were added to most bands, while 47,000 acres of far more valuable land was removed from 54 bands. This included the 128 acres of Long Lake Reserve #5.

This “cut-off” land was later sold to a Mr. John Kennedy, who then released portions of it to the City of Vernon for beachfront access, and to the Canadian National Railway Company.

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator

 

 

Happy Father’s day!

Frank Marchand. Photo by Athena Bonneau, courtesy of https://thediscourse.ca/okanagan/frank-marchand-okanagan-changemaker.

Traditional and contemporary Indigenous culture emphasizes the importance of learning from one’s elders and passing along knowledge to younger generations. Frank Marchand, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, epitomizes this cultural value in both the relationship he shared with his father and Elders, and in the role he has played as an educator to dozens of local students.

From Father to son

Frank Marchand’s late father, Gordon Marchand, was a Master Carver, a practice and designation he passed along to his son. Now, Frank has followed in Gordon’s footsteps in emphasizing the importance of dugout canoes and traditional waterways to the syilx and secwepemc people through public education.

A photo of the in-progress canoe constructed by Frank and students from SD22 in 2022. 

CANOE CULTURE REVITALIZED

In 2020, Frank and his apprentice William Poitras spent the summer working with youth from the Westbank First Nation. Together, the group took 21-days to construct a dugout canoe, which was inaugurated at a blessing ceremony at kłlilx’w (Spotted Lake), located near Osoyoos. Frank also worked with students in Kamloops’ School District 73 to create three other canoes.

That same year, Frank was nominated as a community changemaker, one of several individuals identified by IndigiNews as having a positive impact on his or her community.

Now, in 2022, Frank has spent several months working with students from Vernon’s Alternate Learning Program, Open Door Education Center, and Kal Secondary School to create another dugout canoe which will be unveiled at a ceremony at Canoe Beach. The canoe will then be on display at the Vernon Museum for summer 2022. 

In addition to revitalizing canoe culture across the Valley, Frank is also a member of the Okanagan Nation Response Team, a group of community members with extensive training in suicide education, community mobilization, and critical incident response.

FOOTAGE OF FRANK AND STUDENTS WORKING ON A CANOE IN 2018

To explore more of Vernon’s history, check out our other blog posts

Gwyneth Evans, Research and Communications Coordinator