LETTER: Support for Marilyn James

I’m writing in reply to the November articles concerning Marilyn James, the Sinixt reburial at Slocan Pool.

I’m writing in reply to the November articles concerning Marilyn James, the Sinixt reburial at Slocan Pool and the Okanagan Nation Alliance’s response.

I was startled to read that the ONA “gladly received all people of Sinixt descent at the ceremony” and that Marilyn James “was welcome.” The ONA representative used the term “our ancestors” to refer to the Sinixt woman whose bones were reinterred.

I have lived in Sinixt traditional territory for almost 25 years. In my work to honour the First Nations of my chosen homeplace, my interactions have primarily been with Marilyn James, who, until she recently resigned, was not only the appointed spokeperson for the Sinixt, but also a tireless champion for her people in Canada.

We all recognize Marilyn when we see her picture, when we see her speak, because she’s part of our current community.

Any familiarity most of us settlers have with Sinixt culture, language, traditions and the current politics facing this so-called “extinct” people, has come through Marilyn’s work. She has been, and undoubtedly will continue to be, an active protector of the water, land, history and future of this region. Until recently, there has been no sign of the ONA participating in reburials, welcomings, talks, events, etc.

I am curious to know in what way the ONA has “long collaborated… on the protection and repatriation of Sinixt remains?” The 64 remains Sinixt remains that “have been repatriated” since 1990 were repatriated by Marilyn James, at the request of the Sinixt elder Eva Orr. When “honouring the wishes of some of the descendants” excludes the main person previously involved, there is a serious problem.

No disrespect intended toward the Okanagan people, but I’m puzzled by their sudden interest in Sinixt territory. And shouldn’t the Sinixt be “gladly receiving” and welcoming them, not the other way around?

I support Marilyn’s work because her values and priorities echo mine. I also honour and support the work of other First Nations in their traditional territories. I believe it is time for everybody, settler and First Nations, to stand behind the Sinixt in reclaiming their presence in Canada.

K.L. Kivi