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First Nations Culture in the Similkameen Valley

When you travel through the Similkameen Valley, you’re traversing territory that has been home to First Nations for millennia.

The Similkameen Valley is the ancestral, traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx Nation, and is home to the Upper Similkameen Indian Band—the Similamix People—and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band—the Smelqmix People.

They have a rich history… and much to share with visitors.

Popular with visitors for its beautiful weather, winding rivers, lakes and abundant orchards and vineyards, you’ll find a treasure trove of history in the Similkameen Valley as well.

3 Ways to Visit the Past, Present and Future

For thousands of years, the Similamix and Smelqmix peoples have called the Similkameen Valley home. Here are three ways you can experience their history and heritage… and a glimpse into their future.

1. Red Ochre Bluffs

Legend has it that the Red Ochre Bluffs result from a dispute between a chipmunk and a sasquatch.

The chipmunk was constantly taunting the sasquatch, and one day the sasquatch lashed out, injuring the chipmunk. He felt remorse and wanted to help the chipmunk, but the small creature kept running away from him. As the sasquatch chased the chipmunk through the mountains, a trail of red was left behind. And thus, the rocks were stained red… and the chipmunk got its stripes. Red ochre was a vital ink for the Similamix. When mixed with water or bear fat, it created one of the continent’s most vibrant series of pictographs. Pictographs that visitors can still see today on the Similkameen Spirit Trail.

Note: Some sections of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail are closed near the Princeton area due to flooding damage in 2021. Contact the Princeton Visitor Centre for the latest information and, when you are there experience the Virtual Reality Room where you can kayak the Similkameen River and view the Red Ochre Bluffs.

2. Snaza’ist Discovery Centre

During the Gold Rush, European settlers bombarded many First Nations settlements as they sought a fortune in the mineral-rich lands of British Columbia and the Yukon.

But in Hedley, also known as Snaza’ist sna-za-ee-st—meaning “striped rock place”—the First Nations welcomed and guided new settlers. There’s a rich history of cooperation that knitted these two cultures together.

The Snaza’ist Discovery Centre showcases Similamix customs and heritage and offers a glimpse into how the Similamix are striving to preserve their traditions.

Hedley is also home to one of the most ambitious, and dangerous, mining operations. A renowned feat of engineering, the Mascot Mine is a testament to the pioneer spirit that defined this region.

Photo Tiinesha Begave/Keremeos Review

3. Pow Wow of Champions

The Lower Similkameen Indian Band—the Smelqmix People—host the annual Pow Wow of Champions. Their ancestral territory crosses the border into Washington State, and the pow-wows include participants from the entire region.

Held at the Ashnola Campground in Keremeos, the Pow Wow of Champions is open to the public. The Smelqmix People encourage visitors to participate in long-held traditions, as well as to observe, learn and embrace the heritage of the region’s first inhabitants. The Pow Wow is a celebration of music, dancing, and kinship, and is an event you won’t want to miss.

First Nations History is Our History

The history of the First Nations in British Columbia is intertwined with the journey of every settler who came to this beautiful region. While the relationship between those already here and those who arrived has been fraught with challenges, friendships have been forged in the Similkameen Valley.

The members of the Upper and Lower Similkameen Valley Indian Bands are ready to welcome visitors who are curious about the past, eager to learn about the present, and look to a future in which both cultures are can thrive. If you’d like to learn more about the role the First Nations have played in the story of British Columbia, be sure to visit the Similkameen Valley.

You can take a tour of the Similkameen Spirit Trail, spend time in the Hedley Museum and the Snaza’ist Discovery Centre, or attend a Pow Wow and immerse yourself in the culture and heritage of the region’s first inhabitants.

Are you planning a trip through the Similkameen Valley?

Contact us, and we’ll get you started. We’d love to welcome you!

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