In 1876, before colonization and the imposition of the federal Indian Act, the Okanagans (syilx) were a self-sufficient, self-governing people. The communities thrived on hunting, fishing, gathering, and trading. The Okanagan economy was productive and organized with regulated resource management practices in place. Each area had an appointed Chief. Charlie Sookinchute was said to be the first chief for Westbank. With the enactment of the Indian Act, the traditional government and social structures of the syilx people began disintegrating.
Mom with Baby
Reservations in British Columbia were set aside by the Crown through joint federal and provincial reserve commissions in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Commissioners traveled the length and breadth of the province establishing reserve lands for Indians. When the commissioners came through the central Okanagan, they decided that there would be one reserve at Mission Creek and two on the west side of Okanagan Lake. The local Indians had no say in the matter. These lands were subsequently reduced in size by future reserve commissions.
The reserves at Westbank and Kelowna were initially part of the Okanagan Indian Band located near Vernon, BC. In the early 1960s there were approximately 170 band members residing at Westbank and the general feeling was that their concerns and interests were not being addressed.
In the 1960s there was very little development on Westbank lands even though the surrounding area was experiencing rapid growth. In 1973 consultants were hired to develop a land use plan which was subsequently updated in 1978.
On January 14, 1974, Westbank First Nation members voted in favour of surrendering 177.3 acres of IR #10 reserve lands for a 99 year lease for the Lakeridge Park residential development.
A band subdivision was developed on IR #9 in 1981 complete with paved roads, hydro, telephone, gas and cable. A 66,000 imperial gallon reservoir provided water. By March 31, 1982, twenty-four new homes were built. By 1986 the number of band member housing units had grown to 84 from 26 in 1972. The band member population was now up to 255 with 198 residing on reserve
Negotiations with Canada and British Columbia were also finalized to offset reserve lands that were taken for the widening of Highway 97. Monies from this settlement were used to purchase two parcels of land in 1984 in the Gallagher Canyon area approximately 25 kilometers east of Kelowna. These parcels were granted reserve status in 2001, are now known as Medicine Hill Indian Reserve no. 11 and Medicine Creek Indian Reserve no. 12. The land base for Westbank First Nation now totaled 5,306 acres.. In 1986 the Band was awarded a woodlot covering 981 acres on the east side of Kelowna.