Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band
Since Clarence Louie was elected Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band in 1985, he has consistently emphasized economic development as a means to improve his peoples’ standard of living. Under his direction, the Band has become a multi-faceted corporation that owns and manages eight successful businesses, and provides employment for hundreds of citizens.
During Chief Louie’s tenure, the Band has made several achievements, including the successful negotiation of over 1,000 acres of lease developments, the acquisition of land for the Reserve, the purchase of a viable off-reserve business, and the financing of a major golf course development. His leadership is also responsible for the initiation of the Osoyoos Indian Taxation By-law, the financing and construction of a new pre-school, daycare and grade school, and the construction of a new Health Centre and Social Services building for the Band.
Chief Louie’s efforts have been widely recognized in Canada and the United States. In 1999, he received the Aboriginal Business Leader Award from All Nations Trust and Development Corporation. In 2000, the Advancement of Native Development Officers (CANDO) named Chief Louie the “Economic Developer of the Year”. In the same year, Clarence was chosen to join the Governor General of Canada in the 2000 leadership tour. In 2001, Chief Louie was appointed to the Aboriginal Business Canada Board and most recently was appointed Chairperson of this Board. In 2002, Aboriginal Tourism B.C. awarded Chief Louie the “Inspirational Leadership Award”. MacLean’s Magazine listed Chief Clarence Louie as one of the “Top 50 Canadians to Watch” in their January 2003 issue.
More recognition came in 2003 as the U.S. Department of State selected Clarence as 1 of 6 First Nation representatives to participate in a 2-week tour of successful American Indian tribes. In April 2004, the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation presented Clarence with the award for “Business and Community Development”. The National Aboriginal Achievement Awards represent the highest honor the Aboriginal Community bestows upon its own achievers. In June 2006, Chief Louie was presented with the Order of British Columbia, which is the province’s highest honour for outstanding achievement.
The Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation manages and provides strategic direction to existing businesses and seeks out new economic opportunities. Chief Louie believes that “Aboriginal people and government must make self sustaining job creation and business growth an everyday priority. A real decent paying job that provides real opportunity is the very best social program”.
Although economic development is the means to achieving self-sufficiency, Chief and Council continues to emphasize the importance of maintaining the Okanagan language and culture in all aspects of the band’s activities including business.
The Osoyoos Indian Band’s corporate motto is “In Business to Preserve Our Past by Strengthening Our Future”.
According to Chief Louie, there is one and only one priority for spending in First Nations communities: economic development, or, more simply put, wealth generation.
Louie is well known throughout BC and Canada for his progressive views on creating wealth in First Nations communities. He firmly believes that, without the economic means to support themselves, First Nations will continue to remain culturally, socially and economically impoverished. “Where there is no economic development, that’s where you have third world conditions,” says Louie.
Building on his own belief system, Louie has accomplished much for the Osoyoos Band in the past 20+ years. The Band now owns and manages eight successful businesses, including a winery and golf course, and employs hundreds of First Nations people, both from Osoyoos as well as from 30 other Nations spread over four provinces. In this way, Louie points out, economic development in one community will benefit other bands as well.
Currently a $200 million provincial prison is being built (first time ever in Canada for a provincial prison to be built on an Indian reserve) creating over 300 full time jobs, and under development is Canada’s first high-end motor sport /country club track designed by Canada’s most famous race driver Jacques Villeneuve (Indy 500 champion 1995-1997 World Champion) all on Osoyoos reserve lands.
Developing a strong economic base will allow Nations to support programs such as language and culture revival, youth services, health care and even self-governance, according to Louie, and he urges First Nations to start thinking in those terms. “Don’t use the word support,” he says. “Say money. Language, culture, pow wows… I don’t care what, they all cost money. Every idea costs money.”
Louie is passionate about the need for First Nations to get off what he calls the “grant mentality,” whereby Bands are consistently asking for government handouts. He points to the disproportionate amount of money that has been spent to date on social programs – 92% in the past eight years, compared to just 8% for economic development for First Nations communities. “We need no strings attached by government,” advises Louie. “In the 1800’s, the government took away the Natives’ economic development [capabilities] by removing their ability to support themselves. Native people, over the years, have fed into that system.”
To get started, Louie suggests Bands study the economies of their own regions. “If there is forestry, then get into forestry. The Osoyoos Indian Band was not [traditionally] into wineries; we got into it because there was a market here.” Further, he suggests: “look at how the white people are making money in your region. Do your research.”
Asked if the money should be spent on or off reserve, or perhaps a combination of both, his answer is again definitive. “The money has to be spent on the reserve.” He explains that under the current system, reserves are losing their best and brightest people to the cities because there are no on-reserve opportunities for them. This continually weakens both the reserve and the Nation. Further, Louie cautions that the biggest employer shouldn’t be the Band office, but that the Band should create real business opportunities
Whatever the investment, Louie believes that funding applications should be assessed according to proven business models. “You don’t throw good money at bad projects,” he says. A casino, for example, would not work for every community – but should only be cited where there is a good market. Failed projects equal dollars wasted, and then we’ll just be back to depending on grants.”
Chief Clarence Louie has a strong opinion and he is well aware that his message of wealth creation may not be for everyone, but that doesn’t bother him. “There is no consensus in Indian Country,” he says. “Business opportunities do not wait for consensus.” Whether you agree with him or not, Louie has a compelling message for First Nations – and many are listening.