Published October 25th, 2022.
I would like to acknowledge that this project was created and produced on the ancestral, unceded, and unsurrendered territory of the Syilx(1) Okanagan Nation of whose land I am a settler on. My research focuses on the diverse ecology and climate of the Okanagan, the relationships between the land and the Syilx Okanagan Peoples, and the devastating impacts (settler) colonialism continues to have on the land. I hope this project will aid in highlighting and making space for the knowledge and voices of the Syilx Okanagan Peoples who continue to maintain and sustain healthy relationships with the land as they have for millennia. By working within a Canadian academic institution, I recognise that I am inherently participating and complacent in a system built from a foundation of Eurocentrism, white supremacy, and colonialism dependent on the subjugation of Indigenous Peoples. My goal is to continue learning from Indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies while unlearning the colonial ideologies that uphold the settler-state of Canada and disrupting settler-colonial discourses by attempting to amplify and re-centre Indigenous voices in the spaces and conversations they have been forcibly and purposefully displaced and excluded from.
Photo Description/Caption: A northwestern-facing view of Osoyoos, Osoyoos Lake, and orchards. Photo taken August 6, 2022.
About the Edition
Welcome to this digital edition of The Pocket Desert fonds (1993-1996). The fonds include The Pocket Desert radio documentary, which was produced by Gayle Cornish, a resident of Osoyoos, and features Syilx Okanagan scholar Dr. Jeannette Armstrong and Dr. Geoffrey Scudder, a British-Canadian, and was aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas. The documentary investigates the concerns around the unique yet fragile ecology of the Okanagan with specific references to areas in and around Osoyoos as well as the great significance the land of the Okanagan has to the Syilx Peoples. This multimedia digital edition is a compilation of research regarding the importance of oral histories in the context of learning about and understanding the Okanagan, its diverse and unique ecology and climate, and Syilx knowledge and epistemologies in relation to the land. To critically analyse The Pocket Desert fonds, I brought in previous teachings and additional research to: a) attempt to provide myself with an adequate contextual background for approaching my research questions and concerns; b) support and emphasise my findings, analysis, and arguments throughout; and c) guide my interpretations and support in keeping interpretations and observations as open and unbiased as possible, especially as a settler working within Western and colonial institutions.
The audio of The Pocket Desert radio documentary is essential in both demonstrating my research and understanding the concepts within the documentary itself. By using AudiAnnotate, an audio-visual tool overseen by Dr. Tanya Clement, to make annotations in the documentary, I was able to provide a quick guide that would connect aspects of my research to specific elements of the broadcast. Each annotation will refer to or draw from the following sections of my work that provide context for and analyse the primary areas of interest:
- The Dis/Advantages of Audio/Sonic Mediums
- The Okanagan’s Ecology, Climate, and Fragile Biodiversity
- Syilx Okanagan Relationships to the Land
- The Significance of Oral Histories and Audio Archives
These sections are inevitably interwoven and are interdependent on one another. Each section will include written text in the form of body texts and footnotes, with many including images, to accompany the audio recording of The Pocket Desert and provide a sensory-enriched edition. As audio and sonic materials apply to a different sense as textual and other visual materials. The text therefore serves to provide additional context and apply research while the images are in place as an attempt to compensate for what audio and text cannot provide visually. The annotations in AudiAnnotate and the bodies of written text that make up this digital edition present the following:
- An integration of my research on the Okanagan’s ecology and climate from the time The Pocket Desert was produced and broadcasted to our present time (2022).
- An integration of my research on Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Syilx ways of knowing, and the relationships between the land and the Syilx Peoples.
- An integration of my research on the significance of oral histories and audio archives, especially in regards to the Okanagan, academia, and Indigenous epistemologies and pedagogies.
- Interpretations and analysis of the materials included in The Pocket Desert fonds guided by my research, understanding of best practice regarding Indigenous protocols, and my ongoing learning and unlearning.
- Explorative thinking and questions to offer and evoke further discussion and investigation into the significance of oral histories and research in audio archives; the history of the Okanagan (including before colonisation and settling); the Okanagan’s essential and fragile biodiversity; conservation efforts in the Okanagan; the interdependent relationships between land, people, and each other; the connections between settler-colonial violence enacted against Indigenous Peoples to the settler-colonial violence enacted against the land; and the intersections of the latter.
Primary Research Questions
The Pocket Desert radio documentary contributes significantly to the history of the Okanagan, notably through its audio content which acts as a unique documentation and delivery method in relation to the vast amounts of visual and textual artifacts and archives of the Okanagan’s past. Furthermore, The Pocket Desert includes the voices and audio of Syilx Elders and Knowledge Keepers––such as Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, Lily Armstrong, Delphine Derickson, and Jane and John Stelkia––who provide crucial insight into aspects of the history of the Okanagan. The history they provide has often been ignored and/or dismissed and diminished by settler colonial institutions and individuals. The Pocket Desert additionally includes Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) essential to understanding the significance of the Okanagan’s climate and diverse ecology and the relationships between people and the land. The sonic format of The Pocket Desert project allows listeners to hear directly from Syilx People about their relationships, experiences, and concerns with the Okanagan through a wide range of verbal communication such as poetry, music, song, storytelling, oral accounts, and explanations. The segments featuring Syilx speakers, music, and song in the radio documentary were specifically chosen and added to the final cut by the producers. Having the Syilx perspectives come from Syilx People rather than non-Syilx and settler-situated people helps eliminate possible misinterpretations of Syilx concepts and perspectives that could be warped by settler colonial biases and prejudice. The Okanagan is a place of many histories, yet little Western documentation or scholarly engagement has focussed on the significance of audio and oral histories based in the region. The main questions that guide and inform this digital edition therefore ask: In what ways are audio recordings and oral histories significant and relevant to understanding the history of the Okanagan and the Okanagan in our present time? What are the advantages of audio recordings in regards to research, scholarly work, and understanding? What can audio recordings and oral histories provide and present that other modes of documentation and communication (such as written text and photographs) cannot? What roles do/can audio archives and oral histories have in (re)presenting certain ideas and knowledge––such as to place, land, relationships, and emotion––and in (re)presenting ongoing concerns––such as climate change, land destruction, and (settler) colonialism? In what ways can audio archives and oral histories continue to be implemented into both academic and non-academic ways of understanding, especially in regards to history and ongoing events and legacies?
Why a Multimedia Digital Edition?
When considering what the best method and format for presenting the research of this project would be, several factors and concerns informed the decision to create a multimedia digital edition. With the primary text of this project being an audio recording and most of the accompanying research being derived from written and scholarly texts, interpretations of the The Pocket Desert radio documentary had to be communicated in a manner that could accommodate both sonic and visual text. As I discuss in this project, audio can provide meanings that written text cannot, such as being able to represent a speaker’s presence by exhibiting elements of speech as well as the passing of time, therefore the limitations of presenting this project solely through written text had to be considered. Considering the limitations of text led to contemplating if there were additional methods that could be effectively included to highlight and/or add to particular meanings conveyed through The Pocket Desert radio documentary and accompanying research. Lastly, considerations regarding how this project could present research in alternative ways and formats, in addition to or in resistance to colonially academic formats that would also help make the information and meanings being expressed more accessible, guided the decision to make a multimedia digital edition.
Producing a multimedia digital edition, in which the research for this project and the meanings raised in The Pocket Desert are not restricted to either audio or written text, provides an accommodating and publicly accessible solution. By including the digitised audio recording of The Pocket Desert with the accompanying written text, consisting of related and contextual research, readers, listeners, and viewers would be able to hear what is later written out. Further, the incorporation of mediums aside from traditional Western research methods and scholarly practices seeks to emphasise meanings, concepts, and connections otherwise limited through written text. As Owen Chapman and Kim Sawchuk assert, universities and other academic institutions continue to uphold and establish protocols and practices that define what constitutes as valid scholarship and acceptable frameworks for modes of presentation, which are often “rooted in the sciences, and which favour traditional academic publications that are properly ‘indexed,’ as a way to calculate the relative value of research” (6-7). As The Pocket Desert radio documentary and my subsequent research heavily engages with Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge, epistemologies, pedagogies, and captikʷɬ (oral stories) and as Cree scholar Gregory Younging advises, it is necessary to present related information and meanings in the ways they are presented to avoid misrepresentation, misinterpretation, and speaking for (6). In addition, Western literature and analyses of Indigenous voice, Traditional Knowledge, and Oral Traditions can “tend to reduce emotionally, historically, and culturally charged issues to dry information laden with legalized or academic jargon,” and therefore, it is vital to include other forms of communicating meaning (10). This project in its format thus offers to demonstrate how vital methods of meaning-making, examining critical concepts, and communicating knowledge and information extend far beyond Western standard practice of formal writing and the peer-review process and are a part of Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge systems such as Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
Including the digitised audio recording of The Pocket Desert radio documentary will additionally allow viewers to engage directly with the primary source in this project as a digital edition. Through AudiAnnotate, a platform that allows users to include their analysis and notes of an audio recording into annotations, my research and interpretations can be embedded into the radio documentary without disrupting or altering the audio recording. The annotations created serve to provide contextual background, research, and emphasis on particularly relevant points in the radio documentary that tie into the concepts analysed in the larger bodies of text and images provided. Likewise, the annotations allow for ideas referred to in the larger bodies of text to be identifiable in the audio recording of The Pocket Desert.
My Positioning & Editorial Work
As this digital edition focuses on the (re)presentation and content of The Pocket Desert radio documentary, my research inevitably and necessarily engages with the relationships between the land of the Okanagan and the Syilx Okanagan Peoples as well as the ongoing settler colonial violence in the Okanagan. Therefore, I must position myself accordingly as a white settler who was born and raised on the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation. My positioning ultimately means that I do not have the understandings necessary to speak to and represent Syilx knowledge and experiences. In addition, I must acknowledge how I am actively benefiting from––and, in many ways, participating in––(settler) colonialism in the Okanagan and beyond. As a non-Nsyilxcən(2) speaker and settler, many of the concepts, ideas, and discussions underpinning and featured in The Pocket Desert are well beyond my breadth of knowledge, thus greatly limiting my ability to provide a proper analysis of Syilx epistemologies, pedagogies, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. As Bob Joseph of the Gwawaenuk Nation and Cynthia F. Joseph affirm in Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality (2019), the “root difference between Indigenous and Western worldviews is that they generally adhere to opposite approaches to knowledge, connectedness, and science” in which “Indigenous Peoples’ worldviews are based on the circle, whereas Western worldviews are pyramidal in form, with humans on top” (27). My Western and settler colonial upbringing has resulted in my hierarchical and dichotomous understandings and perceptions of the world and ultimately limit and skew my interpretations and analysis of Syilx concepts, culture, and knowledge both within and outside the context of The Pocket Desert. In addition, when listening to the voices, song, and music that are spoken, sung, and played by Syilx Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and community members, my internalised Western and colonial ideologies and perceptions limit my ability to understand and properly engage in their meanings and analysis. In Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies (2020), Stó:lō artist and writer Dylan Robinson reveals how “settler desire for Indigenous ‘presentability’ or ‘civility’” in Indigenous performances are both fed by and feed colonial discourse on Indigenous art, music, and performance as a form of “settler colonial listening” (1-3). I engaged with The Pocket Desert from what Robinson refers to as a “settler colonial listening positionality,” which is a particular assemblage “of unmarked structures of certainty that guide normative perception and may enact epistemic violence” (10). Normative perception and epistemic violence can be the result of what Robinson identifies as “narratocracy,” defined as “the privileging of narrative in rendering sensation readable” (40). The settler positionality itself is a process or state that has the ability to guide and dominate perception, such as by “generating normative narratocracies of experience, feeling, and the sensible” (39). Similar to a positionality itself and as part of our listening positionality, Robinson affirms that “we each carry listening privilege, listening biases, and listening ability that are never wholly positive or negative” (10). My listening privilege, biases, and ability are thus reflected in my interpretations of The Pocket Desert, which are already backed by limited understandings, prevalent Western/colonial ideologies and discourses, and settler colonial expectations and perceptions.
This project, while attempting to stray away from traditional Western standards of scholarship through the emphasis on sound and incorporation of an audio recording and images, still applies to many of the metrics that define Western and/or Eurocentric scholarly work and consequently dismiss and delegitimize other forms of communicating knowledge, such as oral histories and storytelling often involved in Indigenous Peoples’ Knowledge systems, intellectual traditions, and current scholarship. In his book Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples (2018), Gregory Younging of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation affirms how “Eurocentric knowledge has condescendingly associated Indigenous knowledge with the primitive, wild, and the natural” and continues to feed the dismissive and colonial idea that “only European people could progress” and all Indigenous knowledge is “static and historical” (111). Canadian academic institutions and education systems, as Levi Gahman and Gabrielle Legault assert, “have always posed a threat to Aboriginal people, whether it be the ascendancy it affords white settler histories, its attempted erasure of Indigenous worldviews, or the blunt force trauma it inflicted upon Indigenous children” (51). Along with my inability to properly represent and speak to Syilx epistemologies, pedagogies, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and experiences, the format of this project also comes with a hindering restriction of understanding through its conformity to hegemonic Western academic metrics, such as the use of formal diction and writing style. By conducting research heavily involving Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge, epistemologies, and pedagogies and producing a restrictive output upholding many traditional Western standards of scholarship and research, I consequently confine non-Western Indigenous Peoples’ concepts into Western and colonial terms, thus constraining their meaning.
About The Pocket Desert
Produced by Gayle Cornish, The Pocket Desert radio documentary aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas segment, which was hosted by Lister Sinclair, on October 5, 1995 and June 14, 1996. The documentary spotlights the unique and diverse desert climate and ecology in and around Osoyoos and the significance the land has to the Syilx Okanagan Peoples. Featuring Elder Dr. Jeannette Armstrong, Dr. Geoffrey Scudder, Elder Delphine Derrickson, Herman Edward, and other experts and Knowledge Keepers, The Pocket Desert reveals and serves as audio documentation of concerns around the destruction and modification of the natural landscape brought on by settlements, agriculture, and urban expansion and the consequent impacts on the land, the Syilx Peoples, settlers, and the relationships between. In doing so, the radio documentary offers vital insight into numerous areas of importance to the southern Okanagan in particular that continues to carry relevance to present day. As The Pocket Desert contributes to a finite amount of oral histories and audio archives based in and about the Okanagan, the very format offers exploration of the relevance and significance of oral histories and general sound recordings, especially to the Okanagan. The content of the radio documentary also exhibits multiple perspectives that present awareness and understanding in topics and concerns that have become increasingly pertinent over the last nearly thirty years.
From threats to the unique climate and the devastating impacts of settler colonialism to the importance of the Okanagan’s biodiversity and the relationships between the land and the Syilx Peoples, The Pocket Desert documents and features topics and concepts vital to understanding the history of the Okanagan, the Okanagan landscape, and the ongoing legacies of settler colonial violence within the region. At the same time, The Pocket Desert affirms the persistence of the Syilx Okanagan Peoples living according to their values, teachings, and ethics. Alongside the analysis and observations provided in the radio documentary, the sonic quality brings many of the messages and knowledges to life in a number of fascinatingly crucial ways, such as:
- Allowing the voices and sounds of The Pocket Desert radio documentary to transcend time by bridging the past to the listener’s present and real time.
- Bringing audible elements of the Okanagan to the listener (such as through the sound of crickets chirping, a rattlesnake’s rattle, and a paddle paddling in water) that would not be able to be presented as effectively through any non-audible medium.
- Invoking a personal and emotional connection through listening to the seemingly real-time sounds and the voices of people speaking with emotion.
- Presenting multiple ways of making meaning through segments of formal interviews, conversational interviews, music, singing, and sound effects.
- Including Syilx captikʷɬ (oral stories) in Nsyilxcən as well as perspectives and stories from Syilx Elders and Knowledge Keepers regarding their lived experiences.
The Pocket Desert radio documentary delivers multiple perspectives on the southern Okanagan’s fragile climate and biodiversity, which reveal the destructive impacts of settler colonialism and undermine settler colonial discourses regarding land through the emphasis of Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Through the sound effects alone, the radio documentary represents parts of the natural world that are at risk (such as the crickets, rattlesnake, water, and healthy relationships between children and the land) and represents the aspects of the settler colonial world that are threatening what is at risk (such as the chainsaw, sprinkler systems, and vehicle driving down a road). Unlike most scholarly, academic, and historical documents about the Okanagan and the Okanagan landscape, The Pocket Desert radio documentary seems to privilege Syilx relationships and knowledge with and of the land while divulging and acknowledging the consequent violence that arises when Syilx Peoples and Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge are not taken into account. The interviews and voices of the speakers often appear to act as both testimony and documentation to hold the time the radio documentary was produced responsible for informing audiences of the problems and violence occurring in a personalised and non-Eurocentric approach that reasserts Syilx voices and ecological knowledge.
The focus on Syilx voices, accounts, knowledges, and oral histories in The Pocket Desert reaffirms the Syilx Peoples’ long-standing relationships to the land and Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge as best practice when engaging with the land. From both Western, scholarly perspectives and Syilx perspectives, the radio documentary integrates great emphasis on the importance of Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The transitional sounds (such as the crickets), integration of arts-based or non-Western scholarly approaches (such as the poetry, music, singing, and oral storytelling), and presentation of voices often spoken with emotion work together to affirm Syilx relationships with the land and the vital importance and relevance of Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge from the time The Pocket Desert was produced to the present time of the listener. Further, the audio format grants Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge to present itself in a way akin to and accommodating of traditional Syilx pedagogy. As Syilx Traditional Ecological Knowledge is often taught and understood through captikʷɬ and lived experience, the format of the radio documentary allows for captikʷɬ to be communicated while presenting sounds recorded from the land that allow listeners to engage with the land and its life to an extent.
(1) Some representations of the term “Syilx” use a lowercase ‘s’ rather than a capital. According to Syilx language holders, capitals are not typically used in Nsyilxcən words as capitalisation insinuates something or someone holds more importance over another, which does not align with Syilx ethics (Bonneau). The choice to capitalise “Syilx” (and “Nsyilxcən”) is informed by the presentation of the word seen most often by Syilx scholars and writers when conducting research for this project as well as recommendations and guidelines for writing about Indigenous Peoples and their identity, rights, and institutions (Vowel, Indigenous Writes 9, Younging 77). Further, as I am a settler who is a non-Nsyilxcən speaker and cannot accurately represent or understand Syilx ethics, I believe it would be inappropriate and performative of me to follow these guidelines when I still have much to learn in regards to properly acting in accordance with them beyond representation of terms, language, and Syilx ethics.
(2) The term “Nsyilxcən” is used throughout this project to refer to the oral language that is indigenous to the Syilx territory (Armstrong, Constructing Indigeneity 74). While there are various spellings of Nsyilxcən, such as “Nsyilxcn” and “nsyilxcin”, I chose to use “Nsyilxcən” as it follows most of the spelling conventions used by Syilx authors such as Dr. Jeannette Armstrong. Because the term can also differ in use of capitalisation and italicisation, I referred to editorial approaches that capitalise proper nouns and adjectives used to describe or refer to Indigenous Peoples’ identity, rights, and institutions (Vowel, Indigenous Writes 9, Younging 77) and only italicising words that are not in English unless they are commonly used and referred to in the English language by their non-English term (Younging 85-6). Because there is no English translation for Nsyilxcən and the spelling of Nsyilxcən itself has been adapted for the English ear, it may not qualify to be italicised under conventional style (86-7). The spelling, capitalisation, and non-italicised representation of this term may not be appropriate in some circumstances.
Armstrong, Jeannette. Constructing Indigeneity: Syilx Okanagan Oraliture and tmixʷ centrism, University of Greifswald, 2009, https://d-nb.info/1027188737/34.
Bonneau, Athena. “Penticton Museum’s new exhibit honours syilx language keepers.” IndigiNews, 24 July 2021, https://indiginews.com/okanagan/penticton-museum-exhibit-honours-syilx-language-keepers.
Chapman, Owen, and Kim Sawchuck. “Research-Creation: Intervention, analysis, and ‘family resemblances’.” Canadian Journal of Communication, Concordia University, vol. 37, no. 1, 2012, pp. 5-26.
Cornish, Gayle. The Pocket Desert [documentary]. 1995. OSC_ARC_13-2SR001. _The Pocket Desert fonds. University of British Columbia Okanagan Special Collections and Archives, Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.
Gahman, Levi and Gabrielle Legault. “Disrupting the Settler Colonial University: Decolonial Praxis and Place-Based Education in the Okanagan Valley (British Columbia).” Capitalism Nature Socialism, vol. 30, no. 1, 2019, pp. 50-69.
Joseph, Bob, and Cynthia F. Joseph. Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality. Indigenous Relations Press, 2019.
Okanagan Special Collections and Archives. “The Pocket Desert fonds.” Okanagan Special Collections and Archives, University of British Columbia Okanagan, https://rbscarchives.library.ubc.ca/downloads/pocket-desert-fonds.pdf.
Robinson, Dylan. Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, U of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2020.
Vowel, Chelsea. “Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements.” Âpihtawikosisân, 23 September 2016, https://apihtawikosisan.com/2016/09/beyond-territorial-acknowledgments/.
—. Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis, & Inuit Issues in Canada, Portage & Main Press, 2016.
Younging, Gregory. Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples, Brush Education Inc., 2018.