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Walking Gently: A Guide to Responsible Visitation in syilx Homelands

— By kelsie kilawna; Your syilx Sisters

Generational knowledge transfers happen year-round for syilx Okanagan Peoples, but winter is set aside for the stories of our laws. It’s called captikwl (oral storytelling laws) time, and is marked by the first snowfall on the mountain tops. (Photo by kelsie kilawna)

In the tranquility of our syilx homelands, amid the gentle rustling of branches and the brisk winter breeze, we invite you to find your moment of calm. Let go of the worries that weigh upon you and allow yourself to be fully present. 

As you gaze upon our gentle rolling hills, and beautiful lakes that hold our homeland laws, with eyes softened, consider our request to reflect on what it means to be a responsible guest on these lands. 

Walk gently, speak softly, and honour the land with each step you take.

Our Ancestors have cared for our syilx Homelands for countless generations, and we must uphold their legacy with love and gratitude. We ask guests on these lands to tread lightly, leaving with only a deep love for the medicine of this place.

Take the time to learn about the protocols of our people, and embrace our teachings that have been passed down through the generations. By showing respect for the land and all it holds, you not only honour our Ancestors but also forge a deeper connection to the earth and most importantly to yourself.

kʷu climt p‿cyʕap (We are glad you all have arrived)

In syilx Homelands there are essential principles and protocols to understand when venturing into our sacred spaces. We offer these insights to those who seek to travel through or visit our lands.

First and foremost, as you set foot upon our Homelands, align yourself with your purpose here—a practice we call self-location. Consider deeply: What contribution do you bring to these lands through your presence? It may manifest in simple acts, such as picking up litter or honouring designated trails, with the aim to safeguard the land for generations to come.

In our syilx teachings, we emphasize a reciprocal relationship with nature—a teaching encapsulated in the phrase, “I love the land, and the land loves me back.” Understand that the land nurtures and protects those who honour it with love and care. So, we ask visitors to love the land as we do, recognizing the inherent bond between guest and host.

As you travel about our homelands, understand that these lands do not recognize your name; you are but a temporary visitor in a realm governed by our captikwl (oral storytelling laws). So, we invite you to embrace the teachings that the land knows us, the sqilx’w, as Indigenous to this place, born from the dreams of Creation itself. Know that in honouring the land’s true spirit, you forge a deeper connection.

Moreover, we ask that guests take the time to learn and pronounce our place names, such as our Nation, syilx, and akst̓x̌ałq, where the huckleberries grow, recently known as Silver Star Mountain. By using these names with respect and understanding, you call on the land’s presence and acknowledge its medicine and identity.

Learn how to pronounce akst̓x̌ałq, where the huckleberries grow, recently known as Silver Star Mountain

These practices of respect and reciprocity are fundamental to being a responsible guest on our homelands. By honouring the land’s true name and embracing its teachings, you engage in a profound dialogue with the earth—a dialogue rooted in mutual respect, understanding, and kinship.

Teachings of the Cold and Spring

Now, as an offering to you we share teachings of how syilx Peoples use winter medicine.

When we shift from winter air to spring warmth, syilx Okanagan Peoples take this time of year as a moment to reflect on the teachings handed down to us by our Ancestors and through the oral storytelling laws. Winter isn’t just a season of cold and snow—it’s a time for deep introspection, rest, and mindful preparation for the year ahead.

We honour our space through seasonal cleansing, not only during the rejuvenation of spring but also amidst the depths of winter. By opening our doors and windows, we allow stagnant energies to dissipate, creating space for fresh beginnings. Even in the chilliest days of winter, we engage in the practice of cleansing our homes, inviting our Spirit Helpers through ceremonial smudging using our Homeland sage—a routine deeply ingrained in our sqilx’w (Indigenous) way of life.

It’s important to acknowledge that the ceremony of smudging with sage, in particular, is often appropriated. In syilx Homelands, this specific ceremony holds profound layers of teachings and adheres to strict protocols known only to the sqilx’w. For those outside of the sqilx’w community, lavender serves as a thoughtful alternative.

So in the winter as we witness the snowfall touching mountain tops, syilx Peoples recognize it as a call to align our minds with the needs of the people for the year to come, and not only the people but the needs of the land, the water, the needs of the animals, the roots and everything that sustains us. It’s a time to set intentions for the new year, reflect on the past cycles, and prepare ourselves for the abundance for which we pray.

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