10 Indigenous Experiences in the South Okanagan

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Spotted Lake, whose waters have healing properties, in the Okanagan Valley. Photo: Adrian Brijbassi

The South Okanagan is full of activities that have a mix of exhilaration, culture, sophistication, and charm. Thanks to the efforts of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB), many of those experiences can also be enjoyed with an Indigenous aspect to them.

These are 10 outstanding tourist activities where you can find the influence of the OIB. Be sure to include them next time you venture to BC’s leading wine country in the towns of Oliver and Osoyoos.

BC Map 200 km 124 mi Osoyoos Osoyoos Oliver Oliver
Spirit Ridge in Osoyoos. Photo: Destination Canada

Check into Spirit Ridge

A luxury resort property on the shores of Lake Osoyoos, Spirit Ridge is the first Canadian property to be part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt—a global brand marketed as “unique and story-worthy stay experiences.” Spirit Ridge’s accommodations and facilities embrace the Osoyoos Indian Band’s culture through art, language, food, and stories. The property provides easy access to the South Okanagan’s many sights, and even has an Indigenous-owned winery (Nk’Mip Cellars) and museum facility (NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre) neighbouring it.

Spirit Ridge’s amenities include a nine-hole golf course (Sonora Dunes), a relaxing spa (Solterra Desert Spa), a fine-dining restaurant (Mica), and an outdoor pool with views of the lake and the surrounding Monashee Mountains. Not to be missed is the Spirit Beach Cantina, where hotel guests can mingle with campers and local residents while enjoying tacos, margaritas, and fun times on the lakeshore.

nʕaylintn is an ancient rock formation that members of the Okanagan Nation have revered for generations. Photo: Adrian Brijbassi

Hike nʕaylintn (McIntyre Bluff)

A towering edifice of metamorphic rock, nʕaylintn (prononuced nigh-lin-tin) is an unmissable landmark on Highway 97 in Oliver. Previously named McIntyre Bluff after a local settler, the bluff has been known to the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) and its Okanagan ancestors as nʕaylintn for millennia. Some observers say the ridge of the cliff resembles the face of an Indigenous chief.

A three-hour round-trip hike takes you to the top of the wonder where you will gaze upon the valley from 673 metres (2,208 feet) up. It’s a stunning vista that reveals the breadth of the landscape around you.

Play NK’Mip Canyon Desert Golf Course

Designed by OIB members, this 18-hole championship course is a sprawling layout that is playable for golfers of all levels. The showcase hole is No. 6, which provides an outstanding view of nʕaylintn, from teebox to green. After your round, enjoy quality pub food, along with local wines and craft beer from the Okanagan Valley in the Rattlesnake Bar.

NK’Mip Canyon Desert is another example of the OIB’s success stories because of what it provides for its people. “It’s important that we have a golf course for young people like this guy,” says Tony Baptiste, an OIB council member, while gesturing to his son, Victor. “It teaches you focus. You need to be disciplined to get good at this game. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted our community to have this course.”

Explore the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre

A contemporary interpretive facility, the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre provides visitors with an opportunity to understand the practices of the Okanagan Nation, of which the OIB is part. Visitors will learn how the Indigenous community honours its past and showcases its heritage through artifacts, interactive displays, and riveting storytelling.

A tour of the cultural centre’s teepee village and pit house is also a must for visitors, who will gain an understanding of the desert landscape and the deep cultural ties the Indigenous people have to it. Guided tours are available.

Nk'Mip Cellars in BC's Okanagan. Photo: Joann Pai

Savour a Tasting at NK’Mip Cellars

One of Canada’s leading winemakers is the OIB’s Nk’Mip Cellars, whose award-winning products are produced in partnership with Arterra Wines Canada. When they visit Osoyoos, wine lovers will be in the middle of Canada’s premier grape-growing region, with the chance to be immersed in the industry’s celebrated terroir. They will also have plenty of opportunity to sample the best of Nk’Mip’s offerings.

Along with a standard tasting experience, guests can select the Land and Legacy Tour that includes the chance to tour the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre and explore Nk’Mip Cellars’ winemaking process, including a visit to its on-site vineyards. The Perfect Union Wine and Cheese Tour includes the chance to sample local cheeses as well as Nk’Mip’s red and white varietals.

British Columbia High School Rodeo Queen Keianna James. Photo: Adrian Brijbassi
“Horses have been a part of our way of life for many, many years. They’ve helped us take care of the land and to reach places where we wouldn’t have been able to without them,” says Keianna James, who exemplifies the impressive character of the OIB’s corps of young members. -
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Experience Horse Culture

Take it from BC’s High School Rodeo Queen, horses are a vital part of the culture of the Okanagan Valley. Horse culture is strong in the Okanagan, where rodeos are held and riding excursions with Indigenous leaders can be experienced. The Indian Grove Riding Stables provides half- or full-day trail rides where you can learn about horses and their importance to Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.

The Nk’Mip Campground and RV Park is within walking distance of Spirit Ridge and other facilities. Photo: Nic Amaya

Camp or Picnic by the Lake

Nk’Mip Campground and RV Park is an expansive space with more than 350 sites. The facilities include an indoor swimming pool, WiFi, on-site grocery store, and the Spirit Beach Cantina, all located on Lake Osoyoos.

The campground has been in operation since 1970 and has earned a reputation as one of the best operations of its kind in Canada. It is also within walking distance of Spirit Ridge, the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, and Nk’Mip Cellars.

Be sure to check out the metal sculptures of Indigenous people at the entrance to the campground.

Area 27 in Oliver is a high-performance race track designed by Canadian Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve. Photo: Adrian Brijbassi

Catch the Thrills of Area 27

For a high-octane adventure, get your performance-driving certification at Area 27, where Canadian car-racing icon Jacques Villeneuve has created a Formula 1-style track in Oliver.

The three-day academy courses run until October 23 and give you an opportunity to drive on this track that has attracted racing aficionados from around the world since it opened in 2017.

Spotted Lake, whose waters have healing properties, is a sacred landmark to Indigenous communities in the Okanagan Valley. Photo: Adrian Brijbassi

Spy Spotted Lake

About 15 kilometres (nine miles) northwest of Spirit Ridge is one of the OIB’s most sacred places. Spotted Lake is known for its salt and mineral deposits that cause a series of large round formations in the water. These deposits are not only picturesque, they’re known to have healing properties.

Access to the lake is often limited because the Indigenous community is mindful of preventing it from overuse or damage. But it can be viewed and admired from the road side off of Highway 3.

Get Gas

The Nk’Mip Corner Petro-Canada station may be your last stop in town, but don’t make it just a quick refuelling break. Be sure to step inside this OIB-owned operation. Located at the corner of Highway 3 and 45th Street (the turn-off for Spirit Ridge), the gas station features Indigenous souvenirs and apparel on shelves and racks well worth browsing through. It’s not likely you will find another gas station in the country that sells authentic, high-quality dreamcatchers, wood carvings, or decorative wall art.

POSTED BY: Adrian Brijbassi

From: Vancouver

Adrian Brijbassi is the the co-founder of the digital travel magazines Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. As the CEO of Elevation Media Solutions, he works with tourism boards around the world to develop their digital-media strategies. He edited Inspired Cooking, a cookbook featuring Canada’s leading chefs providing nutritional recipes. A former travel editor at the Toronto Star, Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing and fiction, and has visited more than 40 countries.

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