Oliver and OIB communities remember Robert Stelkia in weekend procession
Sophie Carrigan Gray
Local Journalism Initiative
The Osoyoos Indian Band and town of Oliver said goodbye to a well known community member with a procession led by riders on horseback this past weekend.
Robert Stelkia passed away in his home on July 11, and was memorialized on Saturday afternoon with a procession of motorcycles, horseback riders, cars and community members. The procession started at the Okanagan Correctional Centre, where Stelkia ran a unique equestrian program for inmates.
A lifelong horse lover, Robert Stelkia owned a trail riding business in Oliver for years before getting involved with the Osoyoos Indian Band Horse Program at the correctional centre where he taught inmates how to care for horses. The program also included cultural knowledge, teaching inmates about the important role horses play in the Okanagan culture.
Chief Clarence Louie was Stelkia’s neighbour. He got to know Stelkia through a shared love for motorcycles.
“I was close to him from the biker culture. We rode motorcycles together, that was my connection with Robert, was through motorcycles,” said Chief Louie. “He always was a quiet guy, I mean always friendly, he had a lot of friends.”
Louie described Stelkia as an “avid motorcycle rider,” who was well known in the biker community. Louie recalled a ten day ride he was once on with Stelkia, as part of the annual Wounded Knee Memorial Motorcycle Run.
Louie rode his motorcycle during Saturday’s procession, which included an estimated 20 or 30 motorcycles driven by riders from all over the Okanagan and beyond. One rider came all the way from Vancouver Island just to take part, said Louie, while another friend rode the bike Stelkia had purchased mere months before his passing.
The group of bikers began the procession at the Okanagan Correctional Centre. Bystanders watched from the side of the road as the procession wound its way through the roads of the Osoyoos Indian Band reserve to Stelkia’s home.
Louie estimated around a hundred people lined up along the sides of the road or joined the procession in cars to celebrate the life of Robert Stelkia.
To end the procession, family members led close friends and family into Stelkia’s house for a more intimate memorial.
“A lot of people showed up, a lot of people knew him from whatever activity that they participated in with him,” said Chief Louie, who noted that Stelkia had multifaceted interests, resulting in him touching many people’s lives.
Stelkia made his living off of horses. Louie said his family are one of the only ranching families left on reserve, keeping the tradition alive among the Osoyoos Indian Band community. Stelkia took that knowledge and turned it into a popular trail riding business. There was admiration in Louie’s voice when he talked about Stelkia’s business which parlayed into a job at the Okanagan Correctional Centre, teaching inmates how to care for and manage horses.
Stelkia’s work at the Okanagan Correctional Centre was well known throughout the province as a groundbreaking program. Media outlets across the province took note, with stories appearing on CBC documenting his work.
In a Government of B.C. news release, Stelkia discussed the positive impact his work had on inmates at the centre.
“Inmates who have been involved in the horse program have reported feeling a greater sense of connection and have said taking part in the program has helped them to better appreciate Indigenous culture, the importance of nature and the power of reflection in order to make more positive decisions in the future.”
He leaves his three daughters, Jessica (and her boyfriend Joey), Jaclyn, and Silvia, three grandchildren, Stella, Mason and Deckler, siblings Marie, Aaron and Dora, mother, Jane Stelkia, and many friends.
The cause of his death was not shared with the Times-Chronicle, with respect to his family. Social distancing was requested by all participants leading up to Saturday’s event.