(All photos graciously donated by Louis Bockner, thank you!)
Several hundred years ago there existed an Indigenous village near a verdant marsh in the land now called West Kootenay, land and water teaming with life to supply the needs of a thriving human settlement. This was the Sinixt village and marsh Snk’mip.
Then came wave after wave of deadly diseases including smallpox, the arrival of European explorers, missionaries and the Hudson’s Bay Company, then prospectors and miners in search of silver, then railroads and colonial settlers. Each of these successive invasions resulted in the Sinixt People’s population being drastically reduced and many Sinixt People were physically driven out of their tmxʷúlaʔxʷ (territory).
Snk’mip village was eventually abandoned. The colonial government of Canada sold it to white settlers who renamed it “Bonanza Marsh,” a reference to a hoped-for bonanza of silver-mining riches. The marsh was partially drained and partially filled, the upland areas were riddled with compacted roads and building sites, and much of the verdant forests of the area were cleared for sawmills and settlers' farms and dwellings.
Fast forward to National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21st, 2023. As act of “Applied Reconciliation,” the Valhalla Foundation for Ecology (VFE) and the Autonomous Sinixt officially renamed this place Snk’mip with a feast and an honouring celebration entitled “Bringing Back the Name.” The event celebrated the restoration of Snk'mip marsh and marked the formal stewardship partnership between the settler-run VFE land trust organization and Indigenous allies the Autonomous Sinixt.
(Above: a VFE director offers tobacco to Sinixt elders at the opening of Bringing Back the Name.)
(Above: 80+ guests preparing to feast. An Indigenous-themed feast was provided for all, including stew, bannock, fish from Slocan Lake and pies made with local fruit.)
The event honoured the Sinixt People as the original and rightful stewards of this land, celebrated bringing back the Sinixt name to this place, and marked the official partnership of the land trust organization with the Autonomous Sinixt to steward this nature sanctuary property.
(Above: Autonomous Sinixt Matriarch Marilyn James explains Bringing Back the Name.)
The event also marked the successful completion of six years of intensive ecological restoration work at the nature preserve and was held to acknowledge the many funders and individual donors who made the property acquisition and restoration possible.
“This land has been brought back from death,” said Autonomous Sinixt Matriarch Marilyn James to the 80+ people assembled outdoors at Snk’mip for the evening event on a gorgeous Summer Solstice evening. Referring to the deep-decompaction restoration techniques necessary to remove and rehabilitate roads, the need to dig out massive amounts of fill that had been pushed into the wetland by the previous owner of the property, the creation of hundreds of ponds and pools to support biodiversity, and a massive replanting and reseeding effort, she said: “it took a lot of effort to bring this land back to life, to what this land was meant to be, and now we bring back the name as well.”
(Editor's note: the industrious beavers who recolonized the wetland also deserve a large measure of restoration credit!)
At the event, VFE directors Wayne McCrory and Lorna Visser (project lead for the Snk’mip restoration) were taken by complete surprise when they were blanketed by Autonomous Sinixt Matriarchs Marilyn James and Taress Alexis. Receiving a blanket is a huge honour. It was bestowed in recognition of the Valhalla Foundation for Ecology’s work to restore the marsh and for the VFE’s ongoing striving to come into right relationship with the Sinixt People and all Indigenous Peoples. Lim limpt (thank you!).