Garden Stories

garden stories header

The name of this garden, na’ʔk’ʷulamən (na - kool - a- men), which broadly and inclusively translates to “The things that we do,” is intended to refer to the many things that Indigenous people do as part of their relationship to the natural world. This includes maintenance of the land, selection and use of plants for food, technology, medicines, and for ceremonial purposes, and the sharing of this knowledge with those who walk the paths of this garden or access the garden website. 

The word garden does not have a direct translation, or fitting translation given the dynamics of n'syilxcen language. There are numerous ways to infer garden in the n'syilxcen language – i.e planted garden, garden for edible plants etc. Chief Siya (four food chiefs) is used in the Okanagan region but that term is also used for things growing on the land, versus in the land as well (chief bitterroot). There is also dialogue on traditional (historical) versus Indigenous knowledge (more contemporary & academic), which would be limiting. 

Therefore, after careful review with Westbank First Nation advisors, the name na’ʔk’ʷulamən was recommended. Broadly, and inclusively translated it means  'The things we do.' From offering tobacco, to planting, harvesting, going to ceremony, using plants and medicines, and sharing knowledge it encompasses everything done as Indigenous people, especially and including the aforementioned activities as it pertains to the garden. 


Below you will find written translation and audio files for the spoken pronunciation of key words associated with the garden. Thank you to Grouse Barnes for providing these translations.

The things that we do - na’ʔk’ʷulamən  
Pronunciation guide: MP3 I WAV

A place where we gather (harvest) - sənt’ixmən
Pronunciation guide: MP3 I WAV

Roots (roots of plant/Where we come from) - SaʔXʷip
Pronunciation guide: MP3 I WAV

A place to pick - Sənq’ʷaʔliwəm
Pronunciation guide: MP3 I WAV

Medicine - mr’imstən
Pronunciation guide: MP3 I WAV



The College and Westbank First Nation chose plants for the na’ʔk’ʷulamən garden that are local to the region and of significance to its indigenous community. There are 47 different variety of plants in the garden from grasses to shrubs to perennials. Which plants were chosen?

The two "plant chiefs" of the Westbank First Nation can be found in the garden:

sp‘iƛ̓əm  Chief bitterroot: the chief for things under the ground. Learn more here.

síyaʔ  Chief Saskatoon Berry: the chief for things above the ground. Learn more here.

The other plants selected were chosen for their important indigenous uses. In addition, plants were strategically selected that would provide year round garden interest and be suitable to the variety of conditions of the garden as it has sunny, partial sun and shade areas. 

Examples of six plants selected for the garden and their uses

sx̌ʷsmiɬp: Soopalallie/Soapberry is used to make Indian ice cream. A tea is also made from their branches and consumed as a tonic for stomach ailments. This plant likes full sun and has small round berries for visual interest.

ṕukwiʔiɬp Wolf Willow – the inner bark is twisted to make ropes, blankets and sacks. A larger shrub, this plant has unusually shaped and coloured leaves.

skʷkʷĺkʷísíɬmĺx the branches of False Box is boiled to make tea to treat colds, tuberculosis and kidney troubles. Shade tolerant, this plant is an evergreen for year-round visual interest. 

cq‘ʷas‘q‘lstn The bark of Big Sagebrush is traditionally stripped and braided into rope. Sagebrush is said to be anti-bacterial – so a poultice of mashed leaves is used to apply to necks to treat sore throat or tonsillitis. Iconic to the Okanagan, this plant shape, colour and late summer blooms make it a must for the garden.

skʷəlsiɬməlx Kinnickinnick leaves are toasted and dried for tobacco. A ground cover that is both sun- and shade-tolerant, it has bright green leaves and red berries for a unique visual appeal. 

styiʔ Bluebunch Wheatgrass was traditionally spread on the floor as a carpet and used as tinder by the Indigenous peoples of the region. Tall and wispy, this grass sways gently in the wind providing on-going visual interest. 

The six plant varieties above illustrate how the plants in the na’ʔk’ʷulamən garden are aesthetically different and are used for a wide range of purposes from medicinal, cultural and spiritual uses to technical applications. 

Learn more about these and other plants in the garden on the plants page.


Gathering the plants

Wild Harvest

On May 29, 2017 a volunteer team of Marilyn Alexis and family; Dawn Belliveau; Anthony Isaac; Angie March and Elana Westers traveled to Keremeos, B.C. and the Ashnola area to harvest local plants. Many of the important plants needed for the garden are not available in the local nurseries with wild harvesting being one of the only possibly means to gather these plants. 

The harvest was a success. The team gathered the following plants that can now be found in the garden: Saskatoon berry bush, bitterroot, indian celery, Indian paint brush, Indian potato and wild strawberries.

The local where the harvest took place is remote and the team experienced 35 minutes drive on some adventurous roads to get to the location. While there they sighted a herd of 50 wild horses and … large grizzly bear. It was only a sighting of the bear and a relief for the team to know that the local berries were not ripe that time of year. We can safely report that no one was harmed in the harvesting of the plants. 

The remainder of the na’ʔk’ʷulamən garden plants were acquired from Sagebrush Nursery and Wild Bloom nursery


Story Poles

On July 13, 2017 two story poles featuring ancestral and original pictograph symbols by artist Les Louis of the Lower Similkameen Band were installed in the na’ʔk’ʷulamən garden. The story poles depict plants, animals and other imagery significant to the Indigenous peoples of the region. 

story poles website