As written by Fiona Morrow for Montecristo magazine, Fall 2019
Photography by David McIlvride, Spatula Media + Communications
Dyawen Louis is singing a traditional welcome. He holds his drum with reverence, placing it down carefully when he is done, then graces us with the story of how this land came to be. It’s an origin story that he has authority to share, but is not ours to record or set down. As we stand in a circle in the grounds of the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre watching the mist rise off Osoyoos Lake, this tale of the Four Food Chiefs—the bear, the salmon, the bitterroot, and the Saskatoon berry—resonates. It may be centuries old, but it couldn’t be a more timely lesson in conservation, respect, and understanding of the biosphere.
To visit Osoyoos is to stand on sacred land. The Okanagan town edged by lakes and arid scrub, peppered with rolling vineyards, beaches, and yes, a resident rattlesnake population, is a place where Indigenous history informs contemporary life. Under the leadership of Chief Clarence Louie, the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) has preserved its heritage, and created a vibrant, sustainable future that includes the work of the cultural centre, the highly regarded Nk’Mip Cellars winery, and the pride and involvement of band members, young and old.
Taylor Baptiste is a youth leader, teacher, archery champion, proud keeper of heritage, and student of the Nsyilxcen language. She is our guide for the day, here to explain how certain sites in the area have recently been officially returned to their original Indigenous names—these include Nʕaylintn (Ny-lin-tn, formerly McIntyre Bluff), and Sẁiẁs (swee-yous) Provincial Park (formerly Haynes Point)—reflecting their significance to the OIB, and hopefully encouraging visitors to reflect more deeply about the land upon which they are guests.
There is a similar intention behind the newly relaunched restaurant—The Bear, The Fish, The Root & The Berry—at Spirit Ridge Resort. Bannock is served three ways, a smoked beet tartare is given the respect normally reserved for protein, and bison shares a plate with foraged berries. This is the land on our plates, its story told in a different form.
Executive chef Murray McDonald hails from the kitchens of the Toronto Ritz-Carlton and renowned Fogo Island Inn. He discovered his own Indigenous bloodlines of Inuit (his maternal ancestry) and Métis (on his father’s side) while he was working on Fogo, and has been on a quest to rediscover his lost lineage through food ever since. At Spirit Ridge, he has a place to present his own expression of Indigenous cuisine. He is aided and supported in this endeavor by pastry chef Tammy Maki, a member of White Bear First Nations from Saskatchewan, and by the exceptional wines from Nk’Mip Cellars, North America’s first Indigenous-owned winery, including white wines created by OIB council member and North America’s first Indigenous winemaker, Justin Hall.
Siting on the patio of Nk’Mip Cellars, looking out across the lake as dusk turns to night, there’s no avoiding how special this day has been. We have been guided to slow down, to listen and learn, and to understand that the true beauty of this place runs far deeper than the view.