Statement in support of Sinixt Nation from the opening of Selkirk College's Aboriginal Gathering Place

This statement was issued at the opening of The Aboriginal Gathering Place at Selkirk College, Castlegar campus on May 24th 2012.  We encourage people to post comments and create a discussion around this statement. Please share your thoughts, and opinions that are relevent to this statement. The intention is a positive one so we ask that your comments have this intention as well. All abusive and irrelevent comments will be deleted.

Hello…My name is Dennis Zarelli. I live in Vallican, in the Slocan Valley.  I have asked permission from multiple sinixt people to be allowed to share my thoughts in this statement. With their blessings they requested me to present my statement publicly so that they could witness the presentation of my statement. They have asked that I only express their position so that my statement would be able to put these issues beyond a first nations vs. first nations issue and into the realm of much broader consideration.  Other than that request these thoughts and feelings are my own.

While living in this area I have participated in many ceremonies and events hosted by the sinixt peoples associated with the occupation of the heritage site at Vallican and the property purchased by Colville tribe where the appointed Sinixt Headman and his family reside. I’m honoured to have witnessed many attempts by these same sinixt people to protect the land and water quality, wildlife and fisheries habitat, to build a ceremonial pithouse, to repatriate and rebury 62 ancestral remains, to provide community education and community service.  The generosity shown to myself, my family, and my community is truly inspiring.

I have spent my entire life surrounded by native communities and have been inspired by the traditional and spiritual ways that I have witnessed.  It is because of these experiences that I am deeply saddened to have also witnessed the attempts by the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) and the Confederated Colville Tribe to undermine the efforts of the appointed sinixt representatives to uphold their responsibilities under the whuplak’n, the traditional law of this territory.  I have attempted to contact ONA representatives on several occasions and all attempts have received no response.  I was told by the ONA communications person that she wasn’t allowed to communicate or respond to my letters and that she can only forward letters such as mine to the ONA Chiefs. I attended the Columbia River Salmon Feast and ceremony held last year and spoke with people attending from their respective areas who were not aware of their representatives actions against the sinixt or their claiming of the sinixt  territory.  I am aware of far too many incidents that lack the proper respect and acknowledgement of the honor and integrity that is undertaken by these sinixt representatives and our broader community on behalf of all beings, human and non human, animate and inanimate, for all Life that shares the territory with them.

I am a contemporary man who is attempting to live my life in a good way that includes the values and cultural ways of the people who’s territory I reside.  I rely on those people in my community to lead by example and to allow those who wish to work toward reconciliation to cease detrimental colonial behaviour.  I understand that the governmental process’ that demand political justification, such as the treaty process and Indian Act Band Councils are the reason for the negative behaviour that is being directed at the sinixt peoples and their lands.  In my heart and mind there is no justification for any tribal group, public institution, or individual to conduct themselves with dishonour in sinixt territory.  THE SINIXT ARE MOST DEFINITELY NOT EXTINCT and those of you who are working against them do not carry a legitimate stand as I have not witnessed ANY of your work within this territory on behalf of anything.  I am aware of the planned Okanagan Nation Alliance Youth Run and know that there has been no contact to acknowledge the people of this territory, yet the run is to bring awareness about suicide prevention and violence amongst youth in our communities.  I see this act as one of the very reasons why so many youth are in despair today and how the very act of claiming someone else’s territory is an act of violence.

We ask those who are responsible to stop and do the right thing.  We would like to acknowledge all of the youths efforts surrounding the Youth Unity Run as we feel the cause is a worthy one, but we also feel that the Okanagan Nation Alliance is using the youth to justify a devious act.

I only wish to state that I know the sinixt nation representatives and that I have worked alongside them, I have winter danced with them, assisted in building their pithouse and mens sweatlodge, built community garden space, hunted, fished, and gathered firewood for the elders in the sinixt community, blockaded roads to protect our community watershed, and countless other activities. I wish to stand as a community member in support of the sinixt representatives who were appointed by a council of elders 20 years ago.  I honour them and I am honoured to be here today.