Developing Water Responsibilities Plans Using the Syilx Methodology: A nxwyaɬpítkw (Kettle River) Watershed Pilot Study

Project Overview:

As part of the Okanagan Nation Alliance’s “siwɬkʷ (Water) Strategy,” the Okanagan Nation Alliance implemented a planning methodology for applying Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) into watershed planning processes. The integration of Syilx TEK into watershed planning processes has provided a strong foundation for shaping watershed planning, conservation, and stewardship initiatives that align with Syilx Okanagan laws, principles, and practices within the Kettle River watershed.

This unique project drew upon extensive consultations with Elders and other Syilx community members to develop a holistic watershed stewardship strategy based on traditional knowledge and the connection to water, people, and land. This strategy was captured in a report, “Developing Water Responsibilities Plans Using the Syilx Methodology: A nxwyaɬpítkw (Kettle River) Watershed Pilot Study.” Not only was this knowledge shared across membership Nations, but the ONA also provided leadership in delivering the 2019 Okanagan Water Forum to help a diverse range of rights holders, stakeholders and community members to more fully integrate the strategy and its findings and recommendations into larger planning and governance practices and efforts. This project advanced the integration of TEK into water governance, making stewardship more reciprocal, systemic, inclusive, and robust.

Project Goals:

The Syilx Water Responsibility and Planning Methodology is a result of the Chiefs Executive Council’s direction on water stewardship throughout the nation. This methodology has its roots in the Syilx siwłkʷ Water Strategy, Syilx siwłkʷ Water Declaration, and the longstanding Okanagan Nation Declaration. A strong foundation of Syilx Okanagan knowledge is needed for shaping actions and activities to protect and restore siwłkʷ (water) throughout the Territory. The Nation has developed a methodology for water responsibility planning. With a strong foundation of Syilx Okanagan knowledge, watershed management processes can be shaped to align with Syilx Okanagan water laws, principles, and practices.

Watershed planning is a dynamic and evolving process because environments are constantly changing and new information continues to be gathered. Watershed plans need to be flexible enough to adapt and incorporate the new information. The Syilx Water Responsibility and Planning Methodology aims to apply Syilx Okanagan traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to both existing watershed plans and in new, Syilx-led watershed plans. This project was a pilot for application of the methodology to the existing Kettle River Watershed Management Plan (KRWMP). The outline of the four major steps that outline the process for integrating the Syilx Okanagan worldview.

Project Plan:

A group of participants were identified through Dr. Jeannette Armstrong’s connections and directions as Syilx water leaders and Knowledge Keepers to be involved in the Kettle River nʕawqnwixʷ. This group of Syilx citizens each have a connection to the Kettle River watershed in a unique manner that occurs from visiting the watershed but more importantly by enacting on the Syilx Okanagan responsibility to connect to the tmxʷulaxʷ. Nurturing this connection to the tmxʷulaxʷ comes in many forms, most commonly by harvesting traditional medicines and foods, hunting, gathering, conducting ceremonies, and visiting landforms. This group of individuals are inherently connected to the lands, waters, plants, and animals within the Kettle River watershed.

This project was a means to help uncover the laws and practices that are tied to place. These six practices are major guidelines in how to practice responsible connections to the Kettle River. The practices listed emerge from the key points of both the Syilx Water Responsibilities and Planning Methodology alongside critical steps from successful engagement strategies.

  1. Support Syilx Okanagan ceremonial leaders to enact ceremonies for the watershed.
  2. Incorporating nsyilxcn in all aspects of work. This includes the workshops and written documents.
  3. Referring and utilizing captikʷł and smimay stories in work.
  4. Work in alignment and from the direction of water leaders in the nation.
  5. Reconnect to the water by actively visiting different scopes of the watershed.
  6. Include the localized knowledge that stems from place.

Project Media:

Project Progress/Status:


Project Location:

Kettle River Watershed

Project Team:

Tessa Terbasket, Natural Resources Cultural Research Lead

Project Partnerships:

This project brought many diverse stakeholders and rights holders together in partnership and collaboration, including:
Regional District of Kootenay Boundary
Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources
First Nations Fisheries Council
Okanagan Basin Water Board
Lower Similkameen Indian Band
Upper Similkameen Indian Band
Osoyoos Indian Band
Penticton Indian Band
Westbank First Nation
Okanagan Indian Band
Upper Nicola Band

The 2019 Okanagan Water Forum was delivered through collaboration between ONA, BC Hydro, Ntityix Development Corp, Ministry of Forest, Lands, Natural Resources, Operations and Rural Development and the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

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