It was reports from Cheltenham Festival which reminded me of Anthony Walsh, a name I came across on a visit to the Nk’Mip lands (pronounced “in-Ka-meep”). The Okanagan First Nation people have lived from time immemorial on lands which are one hour south of Penticton, British Columbia, Canada and ten minutes north of the US Border.
Anthony Walsh was born in Paris, France, to Irish parents in 1899. His parents were Joseph and Lucy Walsh, Joseph being a renowned horse breeder and trader. It was on a visit to Paris delivering horses to the grandees of Europe, that Anthony was born.
Anthony grew up in Scotland and England but spent time in Dublin. He had a gentle nature and always felt he was a disappointment to his parents. Later in life he was to speak warmly of his Aunt Agnes Walsh of Dublin who championed him before his parents.
He enlisted in the Irish Guards in 1917 and eventually went to Canada in 1923. He had several jobs in Canada but it was at the Nk’Mip lands where I first came across the name Anthony Walsh and wondered what his involvement with a First Nation tribe had been.
Anthony Walsh began teaching at the Inkameep Day School in 1932 and is credited with changing the lives of the Nk’Mip. He had little experience in education but encouraged the children to explore their Aboriginal identity through art and drama. From 1936 to 1942 he submitted the Nk’Mip children’s artwork to the Royal Drawing Society in London and this has provided an important record of the tribe. The children’s drawings and paintings were exhibited in Paris, London, Dublin, Glasgow and Vienna.
He left the Inkameep School in 1942 to join the Legion War Services to work with soldiers returning from World War II. In 1952 Walsh founded Benedict Labre House, a home for destitute men in Montréal. He worked there until 1967, when ill health forced him to retire. In 1975 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Concordia University. On March 24, 1976, he returned to Oliver for a reunion with residents of Osoyoos, Oliver and surrounding areas, and especially with former students of the Inkameep Day School.
In 1990 Walsh received the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour acknowledging the efforts of Canadian citizens who have made a profound difference to life in Canada. Anthony Walsh died in 1994 in Montréal, at 95 and, according to his wishes, was buried in a homemade pine coffin in a community plot for the homeless at Notre-Dame-des-Neiges cemetery.
Nk’Mip First Nation
The Nk’Mip First Nation reservation is well worth visiting. It’s a prime example of an indigenous people stepping straight into the 21st century without compromising ancient traditions and values.
Working with the government and in tandem with business expertise the Nk’Mip tribe has fifteen businesses they operate on their lands employing hundreds of people of all nationalities.
Bob a ‘young’ elder of the Nk’Mip tribe escorted our group on a tour of the reservation visitor lands where the traditions of his people were explained in simple detail. From the grasses which were the tribe’s paint brush to the trees whose leaves turned red, signalling the arrival of the salmon in the river, the paintings on ancient rocks, to identifying the different animal droppings on the trail, Bob carefully guided us through the desert in a melting 42 degrees.
We saw the Black cottonwood tree which is used to make canoes, the basalt rock used by the young boys of the tribe to make spears, and sat in two pit houses, one with a turf roof and both constructed such that despite the searing heat they provided cool shade, so much so that one of the younger members of our party asked where the air con unit was!
Bullrushes are dried and bound together to provide a table to eat off and with an animal skin cover doubled as a bed. Each pit house would accommodate two or three families, with designated areas for the elders, male and female, who are greatly respected in their society. Chief Louis has led this tribe through a period of great change but their visitor centre with a theatre and a separate simulated pit house, with visual displays of their culture and traditions, film and stills, contribute greatly to one’s understanding of their culture and tradition.
The Nk’Mip are one of eight First Nation communities in the Okanagan Valley and their lands are near Osoyoos, a small town about the size of Skibbereen. Helicopter rides, a 9 hole golf course, accommodation, restaurants, health spa, horse riding and boat trips are amongst the Nk’Mip tribe’s businesses.
Today the Nk’Mip, a people of the lake and desert, are testament to moving forward into the 21st century, whilst protecting their community’s traditions and lifestyle. Further information on how a humble Irish man changed the lives of the Nk’Mip people is available from www.museevirtuel-virtualmuseum.ca and University of Victoria, BC, visual anthropologist Andrea Walsh (no relation to Anthony Walsh) has conducted extensive research on the indigenous people of the Okanagan.
Penticton and the Okanagan Valley are accessible by air from Vancouver, BC.