Okanagan College’s Kelowna campus will soon be home to a unique greenspace containing more than 50 local Okanagan plants that are of cultural significance to Syilx people.
The na’ʔk’ʷulamən (na – kool – a- min) garden will pay tribute to the close relationship between Indigenous people and the natural world. na’ʔk’ʷulamən is a Nsyilxcen word which broadly translates to “the things that we do.” It was chosen to reflect the holistic relationship that Indigenous people have with plants, encompassing maintenance of the land, values, beliefs, practices and protocol in relation to the natural world.
“This relationship we have with each other and the natural environment is rooted in being respectful and thankful,” says Anthony Isaac, Aboriginal Services Coordinator at Okanagan College. “We make offerings before we harvest, saying our thanks to the plants or animals for giving their lives for us and never taking too much.”
Education and awareness are key goals of the project.
Located just north of the Centre for Learning building, the 6,000 sq. ft. garden will provide an experiential educational opportunity for Okanagan College students and staff, and the broader community. Visitors can learn more about how plants were and continue to be used for things such as food, medicine, art, ceremonies, baskets and clothing. The project may serve as a model for similar campus and community gardens around the world.
“The garden will be a welcoming and inclusive space that strengthens the Indigenous presence on campus,” explains Isaac.
Collaboration and sustainability are also at the heart of the project.
“The na’ʔk’ʷulamən garden emphasizes several of the College’s key directions,” explains Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton. “From working with and learning from the Indigenous community to serving and engaging the community to advancing sustainability, we see this as an opportunity to celebrate the rich history and knowledge of Syilx people, and a way to demonstrate the value that Okanagan College places on Indigenous knowledge.”
The College has partnered with the Westbank First Nation, Growing Inspired Garden Education and Design and the Central Okanagan Naturalists’ Club to establish the garden. The project received a grant from the City of Kelowna’s Canada 150 fund, which supports a variety of community projects to help celebrate the area’s natural and cultural history.
To ensure that Indigenous history and culture is depicted accurately, the College is working closely with local elders, historians and members of surrounding first nations communities.
Jordan Coble, Cultural and Operations Administrator for the Sncəwips Heritage Museum is one of those advisors.
“As Syilx/Okanagan people we have always had a very deep connection with the land and all its resources,” explains Coble. “Our health, ways of being and our beauty has always been based on ensuring our relationship with the land is based on reciprocity.
“It is our responsibility to care for the land and in this way we establish deep relationships where we learn to understand the connections that bind us together. As Okanagan people we strive to ensure our land and resources remain healthy for our future generations.”
Space for the garden was cleared last fall and planting will commence as soon as weather permits. The garden is slated to open in July.