Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie told a large group of Penticton Rotarians that reconciliation starts with the truth, something that is a first priority on the 4-way test of Rotarians around the world.
“I like that the first step on the Rotary’s 4-way test is the truth,” Louie said.
“There’s no finish line in personal growth or in business so with truth and reconciliation it is to make it better every day.”
Penticton Rotary invited Louie to speak at its weekly luncheon.
“Change is happening. Twenty years ago, First Nations weren’t consulted on big projects like the Port Authority but now they are the first to be consulted,” he said. Louie sits on the Port Authority and is also working with government on the Site C dam project among many other senior titles he holds.
Louie released his book Rez Rules: My Indictment of Canada’s and America’s Systemic Racism Against Indigenous People in late 2021 to much acclaim. He signed copies after the talk on Wednesday.
He is one of the longest-running chiefs in Canada, having taken on the role at 24, leading his band for four decades. He is known for focusing on economic and business independence in order to strengthen his community.
Prior to the reserve system, First Nations were independent business people, he said.
“It’s that working culture that our tribal society needs to get back to,” he said.
The Osoyoos Indian Band owns several successful businesses including the Nk’Mip campground, Spirit Ridge Resort and Nk’Mip Cellars among other ventures that have contributed greatly to the local economy and tourism.
“In the Okanagan territory, we still have too many on social assistance. There are very few on the reserves that can say they are a business person or an owner or manager of a business. We have to change that.”
He looks to Penticton Indian Band’s large development, Skaha Hills as a sign of success and what can be done.
“Those are beautiful homes that contribute to the community.”
“History proves that we were the first business people long before the French and English came along,” he said. “We had trade routes … Our first relationship with newcomers was the fur trade.”
Prior to first contact, there were no reserves, no Indian Act, no land removals or residential schools, he said.
The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) had 4,000 acres of prime land in low-lying areas taken from them including areas that are now the hospital, hockey rink and neighbourhoods.
“The first injustice was having our land taken,” he told the crowd.
Another injustice is the level of poverty on Canada’s reserves.
“Trudeau said he wants to have nation-to-nation relationships but you can’t have equal relationships when one of the nations is living in poverty?”
“Our quality of life doesn’t look like your quality of life.” To change this is going to take political will from all levels of government and even from groups like the Rotary, Louie told them.
Louie does believe non-natives care about First Nations and do want to reconcile past wrongs.
An example of that, he said, was when hundreds of people lined the streets of Oliver and Okanagan Falls last June, after 215 unmarked graves of First Nations children were discovered at the residential school in Kamloops.
“Hundreds of non-native people were lining the streets wearing orange shirts, young ones, old ones, some with signs and we could see these people care.”
He ended his talk by quoting one of his heroes, Martin Luther King.
“It’s always the right time to do the right thing even if it was 100 years ago, it’s always the right time,” Louie said.
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