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First Nations and the Border

Three Native Chiefs at the border centennial celebrations in 1946.

Three Native chiefs at the border centennial celebrations in 1946. Maintaining a strong relationship with their fellow members across the International Boundary has always been of the utmost concern to the Okanagan people.

The establishment of the Canadian-American boundary along the 49th parallel cut the once unified Okanagan people into separately governed bodies. The Okanagan peoples' territory stretches from Brewster, Washington in the south to Vernon, B.C. at its northern end. It expands east to the Arrow Lakes and west to the Similkameen River.

The Jay Treaty of 1794 gave free border crossing rights to First Nations peoples and exempted them from paying taxes. Individuals of Native descent were permitted to come and go from the United States and Canada as outlined by the treaty. However, the United States changed their attitude in the 1920s and required that evidence of at least 50% aboriginal heritage be shown before entering the United States free of any immigration restrictions.

Although the Okanagan people are physically divided along the international boundary, they acknowledge that they are indeed a single, unified nation. Protests such as the Okanagan Cross Border Rally at the Osoyoos-Oroville border in 1992 and the tribal journeys on horseback and canoe in the early 2000s are a testament to the unity among the Okanagan people.