Providing Fish Passage at Ellis Creek
Okanagan Nation Alliance in partnership with the Penticton Indian Band
Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) formed in 1981 as the inaugural First Nations government in the Okanagan and among other functions, works to provide technical fisheries assistance for the Nation and its eight member communities, including the Penticton Indian Band, and acting as a liaison between federal and provincial fisheries agencies and other non-government organizations.
SnPink’tn (The Penticton Indian Band) represents one of the communities of the Okanagan Nation. The Okanagan people have been around since time immemorial, long before the arrival of the Europeans. The original people of the Okanagan are known as the Syilx speaking people – the “Okanagans” and according to their history they have been here since the beginning of people on this land. The Okanagans (Syilx) people occupied an area which extended over approximately 69,000 square kilometres. Their history was passed on from one person to another and from generation to generation. It is a history of the meaning of being Syilx, rather than a history of dates. SnPink’tn (The Penticton Indian Band) is located on beautiful bench land comprised of three reserves. “We are Syilx who receive our strength from timixw and encompass what is good for our livelihood. We are committed to our language and the teachings of our captiklxw and respect that everyone has value and purpose to come together as one.” (taken from the PIB website).
The channelization of the Okanagan River in Penticton in the 1950’s also had significant impacts to fish habitat in tributaries like Ellis and Shingle Creeks that in themselves supported a diverse array of fish and wildlife that sustained people in the Okanagan for generations. Ellis Creek drains a watershed that is 122 square kilometers through the community of Penticton, and its health and functioning is more important than ever in the face of climate change and for salmon species now that fish passage has been enabled downstream on the Okanagan River. Ellis Creek historically was home to indigenous Kokanee and sea-run salmon species in addition to Longnose Dace and Rainbow Trout. The catchment basin and rock weir was constructed to retain fine sediments from upstream, and prevent them from entering the Okanagan River, but it has prevented most fish from passing through to upstream spawning grounds.
This project will redesign the current sediment catchment basin in Ellis Creek, allowing fish to pass through and access spawning areas up to 4 km upstream. It will allow the creek to function more naturally, and will improve the current routine sediment extraction operations that are expensive, and cause repeated negative impacts to the stream bed and riparian area. This is a priority project recommended by experts including the Okanagan Nation Alliance that are working on habitat restoration in the Okanagan Basin.Overall, the Ellis Creek Fish
Passage project will provide a more functional creek, and a more natural and healthy ecosystem that ensures our fish and wildlife, and water quality for the community to enjoy. The project was approved by the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen Board and $ 50,000 was allocated from the South Okanagan Conservation Fund in 2018. The South Okanagan Conservation Fund dollars match funding from other sources including from other private grants and foundations. The project is expected to complete by February 1, 2019.