Okanagan College students raised the Syilx Okanagan Nation flag on July 16 outside the Vernon campus.
Michael Ochoa, whose father smudged the flag prior to the ceremony, and Tallin Gregoire raised the flag on Tuesday as Amber Cardenas sang The Okanagan Song, and representatives of the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), the Okanagan Indian Band and Okanagan College looked on.
Ochoa and Gregoire are both members of the Okanagan Indian Band, and Cardenas is a member of the Penticton Indian Band.
|Okanagan College student and Penticton Indian Band member Amber Cardenas sang The Okanagan Song on July 16 at the flag raising ceremony outside the Vernon campus. (Karissa Gall photo)|
In addition to recognizing the traditional unceded territories of the Syilx (Okanagan) people, college president Jim Hamilton said the flag is a visible declaration of their commitment to work with and learn from Indigenous communities as they move down the path toward reconciliation.
He said in 2005/6 there were 400 Indigenous students at the college and today there are more than 1,400.
|Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton said raising Okanagan Nation Alliance flags at college campuses is a visible declaration of their commitment to work with and learn from Indigenous communities. (Karissa Gall photo)|
Okanagan Indian Band Coun. Allan Louis, a former student, said it was good to be back on the campus and see more Indigenous people enrolled at the school. In the future, he said, he hopes to see more Indigenous people in teaching and college staff positions.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said the permanent flag is a step toward completing the sacred hoop.
“Colonization, neocolonization, residential schools … all of those terrible things that happened shattered the sacred hoop and now we’re putting the pieces back together,” he said. “It’s an absolutely amazing process to be a part of.”
|Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said the Okanagan Nation Alliance flag raised outside the Okanagan College Vernon campus on July 16 is a step toward completing the sacred hoop. (Karissa Gall photo)|
Phillip also said he attended a flag raising ceremony in Penticton where young students got up and spoke the Syilx language.
“We’re talking about little, non-native kids with freckles on their face,” he said. “Not only did they speak our language, they did it with such a great sense of pride.”
He said he thinks Syilx people will also feel pride when they drive past the college and see the flag.
Last month, the college raised a permanent ONA flag at the Kelowna campus. Allan Coyle, director of public affairs for the college, told the Vernon Morning Star that the college is also planning to raise a Secwepemc flag at the Salmon Arm campus this fall.
|The Okanagan Nation Alliance flag raised outside the Okanagan College Vernon campus on July 16 features animals, water and the landscape significant to the area. (Karissa Gall photo)|
The ONA flag features animals, water and the landscape significant to the area, as a representation of Syilx Okanagan people’s understanding of living in reciprocity and harmony with the natural world.