kɬúsx̌nítkʷ (Okanagan Lake) Responsibility Planning Initiative

Project Overview:

The kɬúsx̌nítkʷ (Okanagan Lake) Responsibility Planning Initiative is designed to bring Syilx and non-Syilx partners together to address the cumulative impacts threatening the long-term viability of Okanagan Lake to provide clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, erosion and flood control, and contribute to climate change mitigation.  The planning process is Syilx-led and brings the voices of Elders, youth, knowledge holders, hunters, fishers, and harvesters to articulate and share the Syilx values associated with Okanagan Lake stewardship.

In 2005, a Foreshore Inventory and Mapping (FIM) survey was completed for the central Okanagan and subsequent FIM surveys were conducted for the entire lake in 2009 and 2016.  The 2016 survey reported that there had been significant loss of natural shoreline to development, which presented issues for the overall health of Okanagan Lake.  Loss of natural shorelines impacts habitat availability for a variety of species, including the populations of sockeye and kokanee salmon which spawn near lakeshores.  Natural shorelines also promote the infiltration of runoff into the ground, helping to reduce peak water flow and the probability of flooding.  In order to combat the continued loss of natural shorelines, the FIM survey reports identified a need for multi-jurisdictional shoreline management and the development of a Lakeshore Management Plan.

In 2018, representatives from local and regional governments, Syilx Nation, and non-governmental organizations came together to discuss collaborative ways for improving shoreline management for the protection of natural areas around Okanagan Lake.  This working group recognized the need for a multi-jurisdictional approach for identifying and developing best practices for shoreline and upland management as well as the need for formal support from local governments and co-development with Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA). This support was attained by way of resolutions from the ONA Chiefs Executive Council (CEC), Mayors and Councilors, and Regional Boards of Directors.

Once formal support had been acquired, the coordinating team made the decision to incorporate a traditional Syilx nʕawqnwixʷ planning process in the development of the siwɬkʷ (Water) Responsibility Action Plan.  This consensus-based approach aims to enhance protection measures for Okanagan Lake and ensures future policy recommendations are rooted in Syilx water laws.

In 2022, the working group will undertake the development of the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan. This Action Plan is a key component from the Syilx siwɬkʷ Strategy

The goal of the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan is to change and provide guidance for new land use decision-making processes, policies, and practices for stronger environmental protection that are guided by Syilx values for meaningful and lasting change. This work will support the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).

Credit: OCCP

Project Goals:

The kɬúsx̌nítkw (Okanagan Lake) Responsibility Planning Initiative main goal is to create new Syilx and non-Syilx engagement and decision-making processes focused on kɬúsx̌nítkw. This process will bolster protection measures for siwłkw and land, and address the threats and challenges to the long- term viability of ecosystems to provide clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, erosion and flood control and climate change mitigation.  This Initiative will also strengthen relationships between Syilx and non-Syilx communities in the Okanagan and increase the influence Syilx Aboriginal Rights and Declarations have on regional environmental policy.

As a result this project will change land use planning by creating  new decision-making processes, policies, and practices for stronger environmental protection that provide meaningful and lasting change.

The Initiative’s first meeting in the fall of 2018 brought together representatives from Westbank First Nation, Okanagan Nation Alliance, local and regional governments, conservation organizations, and the province to discuss collaborative ways for addressing the ongoing loss of natural areas around Okanagan Lake, and the need for a syilx led planning process to create greater environmental and cultural protection.

A summary of the progression of the initiative is as follows:

  • 2019: Conducted presentations to secure formal resolutions of support from the ONA Chiefs Executive Council, 7 Mayors and Councils, and 3 Regional Districts. Established guiding principles for the initiative. Facilitated a Syilx led workshop to introduce a Syilx siwɬkʷ methodology planning process and began to explore the major barriers and solutions for greater environmental protection of the watershed.
  • 2020: Conducted a policy review of government environmental protection measures for the natural area around Okanagan Lake and its tributaries. This included workshops, a policy gap analysis on environmental legislation, and interviews with professionals in water management with ONA and band staff, senior government managers and land use planners. Identified the need for new legislation, a desire to learn more about syilx water laws and how they apply to water and land management.
  • 2021: The Syilx siwɬkʷ Strategy is finalized and released. Completed several capacity building workshops using a Syilx nʕawqnwixʷ planning process. The workshops examined Syilx values and perspectives through the lenses of the four food chiefs and identified issues and solutions for greater cultural and environmental protection. This work unveiled the systemic issues that are holding land use planning processes in place, examined Syilx water laws and new provincial DRIPA legislation for establishing power-sharing opportunities for land use decision-making
  • 2022: This spring the initiative completed interviews and workshops with syilx leadership and community members and non-Syilx government staff and elected officials to gather input and direction on water governance for the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan.
  • 2022 – 2024: Development and Implementation of the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan

Project Plan:

This pilot project will offer new ways for Syilx and non-Syilx partners to work together in co-creating a vision and a framework for a kɬúsx̌nítkw (Okanagan Lake) Responsibility Strategy.

This Syilx planning initiative will provide an opportunity for all the partners to engage in a process that will strengthen protection measures for siwłkw (water) and the land, and will ensure solutions are embedded in Syilx water laws, principles, and practices that value water and the environment as the foundation for sustainability.

To achieve our goals and measure the effectiveness of the project, we will carry out the following activities to develop and implement the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan for the Okanagan Lake watershed.

Development of the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan

  • Continue the activities of the OKLRPI by analyzing the findings from the (2022) Syilx and non-Syilx interviews, and refine the actions identified from the workshops over the last two years.
  • Work with Syilx water leaders and Elders to identify Syilx water laws that will guide key sections and actions of the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Plan.
  • Facilitate additional Syilx-led workshops and discussion sessions with the OKRPI Working Group to refine the actions for the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Plan.
  • Create a communications plan to increase the awareness for the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan and its importance in guiding all levels of government in watershed stewardship.
  • Facilitate open dialogue sessions in each Syilx community to gather direction and input on the draft actions.
  • Hire a Syilx writer to prepare the draft siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan.
  • Present the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan to Band Councils, ONA Chiefs Executive Council, local governments, regional districts, and provincial ministers and senior staff.

Implementation of siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan

Once the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan is finalized we will:

  • Reconfirm formal support for the implementation of the siwɬkʷ. Responsibility Action Plan by establishing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines the responsibilities and commitments for all levels of government.
  • Create an implementation plan and identify priority projects and timelines.
  • Establish subcommittees with all levels of government to develop new land use policies and practices for sustainable watershed stewardship.
  • Work with the Syilx legal council, and all levels of government on legislative reforms that support Syilx water laws, and Syilx authority in water and land use that supports the advancement of DRIPA.
  • Conduct on-going project evaluation using qualitative and quantitative metrics.

Project Progress/Status:


Project Team:

Eva Antonijevic, Natural Resources Research Coordinator

Project Partnerships:

To date, the ONA Chiefs Executive Council, seven municipalities and three regional districts have provided formal resolutions of support for the initiative and the Province has assigned staff to the initiative. There are 50 individuals representing 27 organizations that include all levels of government involved in a planning process where Syilx and non-Syilx partners are working to co-create the siwɬkʷ Responsibility Action Plan.

Key partners include:
Okanagan Collaborative Conservation Program
South Okanagan Similkameen Conservation Program
Regional District Central Okanagan
Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship