The latest Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum was well-attended by residents of Canada and the United States, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It included people ranging from senior citizens to Osoyoos Secondary School students, all sitting down to talk about the future of this precious and important waterway.
The October 2022 forum was hosted by the Osoyoos Indian Band and Town of Osoyoos in British Columbia.
The event was supported by the International Joint Commission (IJC), Okanagan Nation Alliance, Okanagan Basin Water Board and other local, state, provincial, Indigenous and federal partners.
This was the fourth edition of the conference, previously held in 2007, 2011 and 2015.
The forum connects residents, researchers, policymakers and water managers with a shared interest in the health of the lake.
IJC Commissioners Lance Yohe and Merrell-Ann Phare presented on the value of local engagement in water management through groups such as the IJC’s International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control. The Commissioners emphasized the need to include broad perspectives and ecosystem-wide considerations for shared watersheds through programs such as the IJC’s International Watersheds Initiative. Members of the IJC’s board also attended.
The forum was titled “Osoyoos Lake (Nk’Mip) - The Heart of the Watershed,” with an overarching theme of bridging Indigenous and Western approaches to knowledge, science and management. The forum was facilitated by members of the Syilx Nation.
The Syilx (Okanagan) People’s traditional territory includes Osoyoos Lake, the Okanagan/Okanogan River watershed and adjacent parts of the Columbia River watershed in what has become known as northern Washington and southern British Columbia.
Syilx People include members of the Okanagan Nation Alliance within Canada and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in the United States.
Issues and challenges with the management of Osoyoos Lake, its watershed and the local fishery were discussed from Indigenous and Western science perspectives. Additional sessions focused on climate change, water quality and fisheries restoration within Osoyoos Lake and its watershed.
Dr. Jeremy Fyke, Environment and Climate Change Canada, presenting on potential climate change impacts to Osoyoos Lake. Credit: Corinne Jackson, Okanagan Basin Water Board
One keynote speaker, Gwen Bridge of Gwen Bridge Consulting, spoke about how Indigenous and Western science can complement each other, deepening attendees’ understanding of Indigenous worldviews, laws and decision making.
Central to Bridge’s presentation was framing an “Ethical Space” between the two approaches where differences can be explored.
Ultimately, this can improve relations and result in more robust decisions, she explained.
Indigenous facilitators Kelly Terbasket and Aaron Derickson shared the Syilx story of the Four Food Chiefs: Black Bear, representing tradition; Bitter Root, for relationships; Saskatoon for innovation and Salmon for action.
This set a foundation for each attendee to learn about and discuss science and water management approaches within Osoyoos Lake and its contributing watershed. Attendees also learned about “Three-eyed Seeing and Water,” a framework for aquatic monitoring from Dr. Myrle Ballard, the new director of Indigenous science at Environment and Climate Change Canada.
The three-day event also featured field trips to Spotted Lake (Kłlil'xᵂ), a federally protected and sacred site to the Syilx Nation, and the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre. There also were receptions at the Nk’Mip center and the Osoyoos Museum Society, which is hosting an exhibit called Waterways.
Waterways, created in partnership with Syilx elders, the University of British Columbia Okanagan, Okanagan Basin Water Board and others, explores the nature of human-water relationships in the Okanagan Valley and Columbia River system and is on display throughout the winter.
The 2022 Osoyoos Lake Water Science Forum at a glance. Credit: Okanagan Basin Water Board
Andrew Gendaszek is US secretary of the IJC's International Osoyoos Lake Board of Control.
Anna Warwick Sears is a member of the IJC’s Osoyoos Lake Board of Control and executive director of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.