ONA ‘Fish in Schools’ Program Celebrates 20 Year Anniversary
Recently, the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) celebrated the 20th year of the Fish in Schools (FinS) program by delivering a final round of the fish tanks and equipment to 50 schools and institutions throughout Syilx territory.
During the last 20 years the program has rippled out to Band, Public, Private schools throughout Syilx territory, impacting and educating thousands of students.
FinS is a comprehensive fish education program for elementary to secondary students, with a focus on sc’win (sockeye salmon), their lifecycle and the importance of their ecosystems.
By creating greater educational and community awareness of fish species with students of different ages, the intent is for students to become future leaders, land protectors, water managers, scientists and the multitude of environmental and social sciences professions that are available for them.
In the Columbia, this program further cultivates awareness of salmon’s historical runs from the ocean, up the One River – the Columbia and upstream in the northern Canada portion of the Upper Columbia to the Kettle River, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenay Rivers, including other tributaries of the Salmo and Slocan Rivers and beyond.
As a key highlight from this year, the FinS program has nearly doubled its participation in the Columbia from last year, with 27 participant institutions in five school districts in the Upper Columbia.
This upscaling is part of our broader commitments to ensure that salmon are brought back to all parts of Syilx territory, providing food and nutrients not only to people, but also contributing to the health of all creatures and ecosystems.
“This past year saw a historic return of sc’win to the Columbia basin (which includes the Okanagan sub-basin), which only further illustrates the importance and success of such programs as FinS,” said Chief Clarence Louie, ONA Tribal Chair.
“It is part of the broader salmon restoration goals by the Syilx Okanagan Nation to bring salmon back to their original range. It exhibits how the Nation continues to uphold our sacred responsibilities — efforts that includes numerous ceremonies, ensuring salmon habitat is stewarded in the most innovative ways possible and respecting our ancestor, our Elders, our traditional knowledge keepers, and their teachings.”
“The FinS program continues to be highly successful and popular, with far more requests for participation than we can keep pace with,” said Chad Fuller, ONA Fisheries Manager.
“The program allows students to directly participate in rearing sc’win eggs, raising the hatched fry in the classroom, and releasing the sc’win into the rivers. Seeing their life cycles firsthand, they can have a direct contribution and connection to salmon reintroduction efforts and hopefully will see the fish come back in the coming years.
“The program also offers educators scientific and cultural resources that enrich students’ understandings of the importance of this species, for the ecosystem and Syilx people. As such, with the growing requests by Schools, ONA requires new strategic approaches and funding opportunities to ensure the program spreads and thrives.”
Egg delivery to FinS participant schools has taken place over the first half of January 2023, with over 5000 eggs being sent out to schools and other institutions. Upon successfully raising the fry, students will include their fry in ceremonial releases taking place throughout the Syilx territory in May, 2023.
The Fish in Schools program run successfully since 2003 in the Okanagan region and contributes to the kł cp̓əlk stim̓ Hatchery’s fry release efforts. The kł cp̓əlk stim̓ Hatchery is a testament to the perseverance of the Syilx people to realize their dream of restoring the salmon – one of our Four Food Chiefs – to their original habitat and rightful place in our territory.