The Okanagan People

By: Sarah Werner

The following was a declaration of Okanagan rights, signed by representatives of the Okanagan Nation on the 23rd of August 1987. One hundred years after the birth of Mourning Dove, this represents the world which has been created by her people. The Okanagan Nation was firm in their resistance to relocation and assimilation policies. The following represents that resistance:

“We, the Okanagan Nation make this declaration today as a sign for every generation to come. Therefore, we hereby declare that:

We are the unconquered aboriginal peoples of this land, our mother;

The creator has given us our mother to enjoy, to manage and to protect;

We, the first inhabitants, have lived with our mother from time immemorial;

Our Okanagan Governments have allowed us to share equally in the resources of our mother;

We have never given up our rights to our mother, our mother’s resources, our governments and our religion;

We will survive and continue to govern our mother and her resources for the good of all for all time” (Carstens: 1991).

Original Okanagan Territory

Map 1  


  Before European contact, the Okanagan people represented one, with a number of matrilineal groups of Salish speaking people.  These groups consisted of hunters, gatherers, and fishermen, always with a dependence on the natural resources specific to their geographical area.  The original homeland of the Okanagan people was a mixture of desert and fertile land.  The political system of the Okanagan people consisted of sub-chiefs and tribal chiefs, who carried out the wishes and acted on the benefit of the people.  

  After the implementation of the Indian Act of 1876, chiefs became appointed by the Department of Indian Affairs.  Subsequently all original political systems became illegal as well as all previous trade with nearby Nations, such as the Blackfoot, Spokane, and Shuswap Nations, become highly discouraged.  This limited the tribes to their own particular reserves (Louis:2002).

  Mourning Dove was a member of the Colville Reservation of north central Washington (Miller 1990).   During her lifetime, the Okanagan people suffered greatly in loss of territory and assimilation policies.   Up until the mid-1800s, less than one life time before Mourning Dove’s birth, the Okanagan people continued their traditional way of life.   The Okanagan people often traveled within their entire territory (see Map 1) including areas now known as Canada and the Unites States of America.  The reality of the Canadian border produced many limitations on this lifestyle. 

   In 1872 the Colville Indian Reservation was established by the American government, including several million acres of diverse landscapes.  However, less than one month later the reserve land, and people were relocated to the present location on the west side of the Columbia River. This relocation diminished the land to less than three million acres.  These events existed less than twenty years prior to Mourning Dove’s birth. 

   Within the next few decades and onward the Colville Indian Reservation continued to diminish as a result of European encroachment and governmental policy, with no consulation to members of the reserve.   Allotment policy continued to diminish the land occupied by the Okanagan people.  The Colville Indian Reservation now encompasses 1.4 million acres.

For further information on the contemporary situation of the Okanagan people follow the link posted below:

More specially for further information on the Orville Reservation, in which Mourning Dove was once a member of, follow the link below:


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