BEST NATIVE LEADER CANADA NEVER HAD
Written by Roy MacGregor from OSOYOOS, British Columbia
and published in The Globe and Mail August 15, 2014
...the following are excerpts from his article:
The sun beats down on Canada's only desert ~ sagebrush on the far hills, rattlesnake warnings along the paths ~ and the luxury resort, surrounded by ripening vineyards, is packed with summer visitors. A young blonde woman wearing a small dress and large rings, moves across the street toward a brand new Range Rover (from $119,990 at your local dealership) but halts suddenly startled by the thunder of a Harley-Davidson rumbling down the paved approach to the resort. She steps back and stares, slightly aghast. The motorcycle driver is dark and solid and wears a helmet featuring the face of Sitting Bull (the Lakota chief and holy man whose visions led to the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876...and who was later shot and killed by U.S. Indian agents). The driver calls the motorcycle Crazy Horse, after the Sioux leader who brought down Custer.
The man on the Harley is Clarence Louie, chief of the Osoyoos Band and owns the Spirit Ridge Resort, the surrounding vineyards, the winery next door and the championship golf course in the distance. He is, in no small part the creator of the Osoyoos Miracle in the Desert.
“Let us put our minds together and see what we can make for our children,”
Chief Louie's great hero, Sitting Bull once said.
Clarence Louie's other great hero is Billie Diamond, the Canadian First Nations leader who forged the James Bay Agreement in the mid-1970's and brought prosperity and an airline to the Crees of Northern Quebec. Like Mr Diamond, who died at age 61 five years ago, Clarence Louie may be the best national native leader the country never had ~ an intriguing thought during a summer in which First Nation's leadership has rarely seemed on more uncertain grounds; Mr. Louie has no national ambition at age 54.
“I don't really think about Canada,” he says. “I've got my hands full with my own issues. A lot of chiefs like travelling. Business travel got boring to me pretty damn quick. I like staying on the 'rez' here. I just like creating jobs and making money.”
When first elected chief in 1984, he was paid $250 a month. Today, as chief, he is paid $18,000 a year. His additional compensation comes from operating as administer of the successful band and as CEO of the Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corp. He says, “First Nations are being treated like 'wards of the state' whereby the old 'Indian Agent' mentality still exists. The federal government still feels the need to control and pry into everything (including our privately owned business and privately generated income) and at the same time announces year after year in the 'Speech from the Throne' that First Nations must take their rightful place in Canada's rich economy, competing in the business world.”
Mr Louie first rose to national attention a decade ago in which he brusquely told an Alberta conference on aboriginal economic development: “My first rule for success is...Show up on time. My No. 2 rule for success...is Follow Rule no. 1.” His blunt message reverberated throughout First Nations and beyond. “Our ancestors worked for a living,” he told the conference, “so should you.”
Clarence Louie's own work ethic came from his mother, Lucy, a single mom who raised a half dozen of her own children and others' children. He believes there is a fair, if surprising, comparison to be made between isolated Canadian reserves and inner-city America. “Black people are like natives,” he says. “They're mostly raised by single moms and most of the people who get in trouble are young men.”
While the chief went to university for native studies and is respective of native culture, there is nothing he believes in as much as discipline. Lucy Louie, still alive and thriving, kept her children in line at home and they learned to work in the vineyards, which supplied grapes to various wineries. “Summertime wasn't playtime,” he says. “We started working at 11 or 12 years of age...and at four or five in the morning because there's no shade in the Okanagan. It was good training grounds.”
Clarence Louie returned to university to become chief of the band while in his early 20's. Unprepared, he lost an election, then returned with a resolve that transformed the desert around Osoyoos Lake. The band went from poverty, soaring unemployment and bankruptcy...to a shining success story...even hiring natives from 36 other bands across the Prairies, British Columbia and the Territories.
Mr. Louie is quick to note the band's advantage took far more than luck, climate and proximity to Vancouver...to transform Osoyoos. Jake MacDonald, writing in ROB Magazine in May, noted that the band had $26-million in revenue a year ago and posted a net-profit of $2.5-million. The band has used available federal and provincial programs...astute hirings from outside...and partnerships to transform its 32,000 acres into a thriving modern community.
He has captured the attention of so many other First Nations that he could easily spend half the year on the road giving speeches and business workshops. “I keep telling the government to concentrate on economic development and then we wouldn't be in this mess. The original treaty relationship was a business relationship. It wasn't a 'dependency' relationship. Even at the national level, I never hear the national chiefs talk about that...they always talk about poverty. You'll never get rid of poverty without jobs. Talk about Jobs. Quit talking about poverty.”
Mr Louie also stands strongly behind the need for a better education system for First Nations, but with a caveat: “Once you get beyond the fluff about what education is supposed to do for you ~ make you a better person, more rounded, all that stuff ~ it's really about making yourself employable. The more education you get...the better job you're going to get.
When Mr. Louie speaks of his dreams for Osoyoos, he is always months, sometimes years down the line. A $200-million provincial prison will be going up near the band's headquarters at Oliver. His experience while serving on a federal panel reviewing the operations of Correctional Services, convinced him things could be done differently...so the band bid on and won the project, though it will not run it. Still, the prison will mean more jobs ~ and he hopes, lead toward new approaches.
Then there is the hobby race track...a new idea that is itself racing along...as the Osoyoos band is convinced it can attract a rich clientele that prefers Lamborghinis to Land Rovers and might like to live out their Formula One Fantasies.
The day done, Mr. Louie straps his Sitting Bull motorcycle helmet tight...fires up the Harley and heads down the resort road toward the band office. There he will collect his truck, parked beneath the band sign that contains the same inspirational quote that runs along his truck's bumper:
Native People Have Always Worked for a Living.
Merle Baird-Kerr...penned March 6, 2015
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