Four soulful Vernon experiences with syilx connections
You really don’t know a place until you know its people. Places are places, but it’s the people that make it a destination. syilx homelands (encompassing the City of Vernon, Okanagan Valley and beyond) could arguably be one of the world’s richest nations—for its lands and the beauty that land of the Okanagan brings to its people. And it's these people who bring Vernon’s soul to a whole new level.
“The Okanagan Song is a song celebrating that we are Okanagan people, connected to the land, with its beauty—and the preservation of that beauty is what keeps us beautiful,” says Kelsie Marchand.
As part owner of Your syilx Sisters, Marchand and her sister Lauren offer PR, media and training potentials across the region. Together with Kelsie’s son skookamina ("skook" for short) and daughter kolet, the family introduced us to the interconnected beauty of their homeland.
Marchand has ensured both her children embody their syilx responsibilities, to the point now skook and kolet are requested as Youth representatives for special engagements and community events. skook's drumming and singing can be heard in this video we generated as part of our collaboration, featuring the Okanagan Song.
WATCH: syilx Nation cultural experiences steep Vernon in soul
Four soulful Vernon experiences
On your next visit to Vernon, take some time to get to know the syilx and gain syilx perspective. In doing so, you’ll welcome more soul into your time in the Okanagan Valley.
1. Find your way to sacred viewpoints
Viewpoints are sacred spaces for the syilx people.
“Viewpoints are part of our young people's training; it's where they are taught about their land-based roles and responsibilities,” explained Kelsie.
To get you started, here are two: Turtle Mountain, and Foothills Bluffs Trail.
Make your way to Turtle Mountain up an ancient lava flow wall to a sacred space that looks like a turtle when seen from the air. Sit on the lookout over the northern Okanagan Valley with its two lakes in blazing view. And listen for skook and his drum circle welcoming you for a view out and into Vernon’s soul.
“As far as we look out at these mountains—it’s all syilx Homeland and this is land that the Youth are trained to caretake.” Now through tourism and other economic development for Your syilx Sisters and their colleagues, more opportunities and invitations to share their culture, within their protocol, is coming through.
“skook has been humbly trained to the understand and uphold his responsibilities as one who oversees the caretaking of his homelands,” explains Kelsie.
As we took in this very impressive view, Kelsie relayed how important viewpoints are so you know your areas of responsibility.
For directions and more trail info to Turtle Mountain, Foothills Bluffs and other iconic views, head to the Tourism Vernon website.
2. Learn about traditional ways, from syilx guides
At Okanagan College take a tour through the K'nmaĺka Senqâĺten Indigenous Gardens, led by a syilx guide who will include traditional plant life & its value brought to his people. We did a story on this last year and you can find that here.
3. Appreciate the syilx history on the land
“Canoe Beach was utilized for trading, ceremonies, celebrations, fishing, hunting and for gathering food,” explains Kelsie. Okanagan Lake is 135kms long, connecting Vernon to Penticton. Goods were moved up and down this lake, and here at Canoe Beach paddlers would rest and take in this impressive setting.
But note the difference, while you are here at most southern shores of this inlet beach off Okanagan Lake. This part of the beach belongs to the Okanagan Indian Band and has been kept in its natural setting. Take in the interpretation board introducing the history, language and meaning to this spot.
“It’s nice to have the recognition here as we came down here lots before and there was no signage - now when people come here, they know it’s ours,” says 17 year-old kolet Marchand.
4. Hungry yet? Check out Syilx culinary creatives
All that hiking and soul fueling discovery likely now has you hungry. We got you, as syilx entrepreneurs have been sprouting up to bring new features to Vernon and area’s food and beverage options.
“It’s like a cruller with meat!” says ZenSeekers photographer Niall Pinder.
“Our difference is deep fried bannock,” explains Bannockslap Burgers owner Shane Miller. Miller is on the road some weekends with his popular food truck but most times basecamp is at the entrance to the nk'maplqs reserve—north end of Okanagan Lake, on Okanagan Indian Band homelands—where travellers are more than welcome (#2 Westside Road, Vernon; just passed Historic O’Keefe Ranch and Spallumcheen Golf Club).
Miller is eight years into his burger bonanza. When he took his operation into town at the Vernon Farmers' Market, he found 50 per cent or more of the people there didn’t know what bannock was. “Bannock is the hidden gem, it ties people to our culture through food,” explains Miller.
Bannockslap offers a delicious burger served on deep fried bannock, with signature burger sauce served with soul.
Coyote Coffee & Ice Cream
Ryan Oliverius has your back for dessert. Just a bit further down Westside Road is Coyote Coffee & Ice Cream. After four years as OKIB’s youngest councillor, he’s bringing something to the community to fill a gap.
Opened in 2023 the shop includes an Indigenous clothing and retail presence with local makers.
Why Coyote? “He was known for being a trickster, my grandpa was called senkl'ip so it’s a nod to him.”
Make either of these stops to fuel up before or after, let them know you are on a journey to discover more about Vernon’s soul, and likely either of them will give you another weeks’ worth of other suggestions!
When you Go
Canoe Beach (Kin Beach) is home to a new installation allowing visitors to better understand Okanagan Indian Band’s connection to these lands.
The Turtle Mountain Portion of the Grey Canal Trail takes any walker, hiker or trail runner up to Rocky Ridge Park (15 mins walk from trail head) for a bird’s eye view of the city and the North Okanagan.
Book in a tour at the Kalamalka Indigenous Garden to gain a view you might not have expected while in Vernon, one of BC’s most soul-filled cities.
Share you adventures! Let us know what you find, include #exploreVernon and #ZenSeekers in your posts