The Autonomous Sinixt

Autonomous Sinixt are those Sinixt who reject the authority of the governments of Canada, British Columbia, The United States of America, Washington State, Colville Confederated Tribes, Okanagan Nation Alliance, or any other governing body who claims the authority to represent our interests and by proxy, exert authority over our təmxʷúlaʔx and siwɬkʷ, culture, customs and traditional governance. Sinixt governed ourselves for thousands of years, dictated the path of our own culture and customs for thousands of years, and it will be so again. Sinixt have never signed a Treaty in Canada nor ceded their lands.

Sinixt are governed by the laws of whuplak’n and smum iem. Unlike colonial laws, which are imposed on the land, our laws come from the land itself. Under our laws we cannot sit idly by and watch anyone harm our təmxʷúlaʔx and siwɬkʷ whether a colonially-imposed system of governance or from other First Nations.

The law of whuplak’n is the highest law which dictates that Sinixt are responsible for everything in our təmxʷúlaʔxʷ. As Sinixt Peoples we must conduct ourselves in a way that honours that responsibility. The law of smum iem falls under the law of whuplk’n and further clarifies that the women are tasked with ensuring that our responsibilities to the land, the peoples, and all other beings are met. Simply put, responsibility belongs to the women. This is reflective of the traditions of matriarchy. Even though men were most often chiefs, they were accountable to the matriarchs who held ultimate authority.

Who are Sinixt? Who are Lakes?

Lakes or Arrow Lakes Indians is a colonially-imposed name. However, particularly in the US, this was the name Sinixt came to use to refer to themselves in the mid-period of colonization. This was also consistent with Sinixt being referred to as the “Arrow Lake (or Lakes) Band” for purposes of the Indian Act in Canada. With their resurgence to protect the Vallican burial ground and village site in Canada, the name Sinixt was reclaimed. Now it is the preferred name in Canada, and is gaining usage in the US. Again, it is not the place of settlers to argue whether Lakes or Sinixt should be used by someone who identifies themselves.1I use Sinixt exclusively as that is how Sinixt in Canada refer to themselves for over 20 years.

Sinixt are classified as complex foragers by anthropologists and archaeologists. This means that they had a complex social organization and relied primarily on foraging for their food (as opposed to farming). The difference between hunter/gatherers and foragers is that foragers also rely heavily on fish. 

Sinixt Pithouse

Sinixt lived in pithouses in the winter, and tule mat lodges in the summer. Summer groups would be smaller, with people congregating at larger pithouse complexes during the winter. Ceremonies and other major events would occur in the winter (e.g., the winter dance).

Traditionally Sinixt were matriarchal, which means women had power. Matriarchy is not a mirror of patriarchy, however. Most often chiefs were men, but women could also be chiefs. A council of matriarchs would guide the decisions of the chiefs and the groups. Chiefs served at the behest of the matriarchs and individual autonomy was respected. Each adult was given the opportunity to be heard.

How do you know it is Sinixt təmxʷúlaʔxʷ?

Oral history states that Sinixt have been in their təmxʷúlaʔxʷ since the beginning of time. Sadly, in settler colonial societies, especially in British Columbia with the contemporary land claims process, evidence is vetted by those in power—governments. Settlers and their governments demand what they think of as “hard evidence”. Noteworthy is how often that “hard evidence” confirms oral history of Indigenous Peoples.

In addition to Sinixt oral history, there are two significant ways (i.e., hard evidence) for knowing this is Sinixt təmxʷúlaʔxʷ. The first is burials. Sinixt interned their dead in a way distinctive from all of their neighbours: buried in the prostate position, in talus slopes facing water. They also were not buried with material objects, called “grave goods”, although significant items may be placed near the burial. If you find any Sinixt artifacts, they request that you leave them where you found them. Sinixt believe that their ancestors are still using those items; they need them more than you do!

The second distinct cultural trait is the utilization of pithouses. Syilx and Ktunaxa did not use pithouses. If there are clusters of house pits (the depression of a pithouse), it is either a Sinixt or Secwepemc site. If there is a cluster of pithouses with prostate burials then it is highly probable it is a former Sinixt village site. 

The housepits at the Slocan Narrows Archaeology Project (SNAP) near Lemon Creek, have been radiocarbon dated to 3100BCE2 The Vallican site has been radiocarbon dated to 2100BCE. While there have been no burials located at the SNAP site to date, Vallican was both a village and a burial site, yielding over 3000 artifacts. Archaeologists at both of these sites state that they are most likely Sinixt3 While other Indigenous Peoples may have connections going back hundreds of years, the evidence for thousands of years of “shared territory” with Sinixt is weak.

traditional sinixt nation land

Sinixt təmxʷúlaʔxʷ was also surveyed five separate times between 1884 and 1936. Dawson 1884 and 1892, and well-respected anthropologists James Teit 1909, Franz Boas 1928, and Verne Ray 1936. While the edges of Sinixt təmxʷúlaʔxʷ vary slightly between the surveys all are in agreement that Sinixt təmxʷúlaʔxʷ extends from north of Revelstoke, BC to well below the US-Canada border. In contemporary times, maps can be a source of confusion as they are always shaped by politics. Yet, the preponderance of map evidence up until Sinixt extinction in 1956, indicates this as Sinixt təmxʷúlaʔxʷ, in addition to the oral history of Sinixt Peoples themselves.4Teit, Boas, and Ray are still some of the best sources of Sinixt history in the early colonial period. More recent anthropological works (e.g., Pryce, Geiger, Bouchard and Kennedy) all rely heavily on these works. In sum, their work has stood the test of time and is still an important resource in the present. Again, it is important to note that these accounts rely on oral history of Sinixt and neighbouring Indigenous Nations; they merely confirm Sinixt accounts.