It was a thrill to enter the brand new Westbank First Nation Sncəwips Heritage Museum last Saturday, when the ribbon was cut and doors first opened onto what will surely become a keystone museum for the Central Okanagan. The museum houses the art and artefact collection of the Westbank First Nation’s heritage repository, and marks the shift of this repository into a fully recognized museum, now named Sncəwips (pronounced sen-ch-wee-ps) Heritage Museum. The space focuses on the heritage of WFN and the stories of the Okanagan Nation, and First Nations people across Canada and abroad. It is a true celebration of the heritage, language, and natural history of the syilx/ Okanagan people.
On opening day, the public was invited into the new museum, located at Estates Square in West Kelowna to celebrate the creation of the museum and beauty of the art and artefacts inside it. I was excited to immerse myself and learn about the history here, and I lingered at every interpretive plaque to read about the pictographs, uses of natural materials to create beautiful and utilitarian baskets and tools, traditional foods, and the legends that offer glimpses into this culture, rooted as it is in our unique geography. I will have to go back many times to fully appreciate the collection and stories found at this museum.
To me, it was also very much representative of the vitality and aliveness of syilx culture today, and into the future. The museum is involved in community events – for instance, it was open for National Aboriginal Day (June 21), and will also be open on Canada Day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The museum is also involved in the Westside Culture Days on September 26, 27, and 28, where the goal is to connect local artists and local businesses in West Kelowna.
In general, the museum is open to the public Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on select holidays. I highly recommend taking in this museum and appreciating all it has to offer. There is so much to discover here, and it offers a beautiful glimpse into a worldview that is very much a result of this unique geography, climate, and ecosystem. This museum is truly a gift from the Westbank First Nation back to the whole community throughout the Central Okanagan and indeed the broader valley. And I can’t think of a better way to thank someone for their gift than by showing them respect for it and incorporating it into our lives as much as we can.