How many of you have heard about Chief Clarence Louie from the Osoyoos Indian Band in British Columbia? After reading a few articles about him, I thought to myself, "Wow! He makes the material in my Tribal Leaders Institute sound tame."
Speaking at a large aboriginal conference, Chief Clarence Louie said, "I can't stand people who are late. Indian Time doesn't cut it. My first rule for success is 'Show up on time.' My No. 2 rule for success is follow Rule No. 1." He goes on to say, "If your life sucks, it's because you suck. Quit your sniffling. Join the real world - go to school or get a job. Get off of welfare. Get off your butt." (MacGregor, 2006, para.s 3-4, 6-10)
However, the comment I appreciated most was this, "Our ancestors worked for a living," he says. "So should you" (MacGregor, 2006, para. 14). This is exactly the point I try to drive home in Tribal Leaders Institute courses.
Who is Clarence Louie?
He is "chief - and CEO - of the Osoyoos Band in British Columbia's South Okanagan. He is 44 years old [now 50], though he looks like he would have been an infant when he began his remarkable 20-year-run as chief. He took a band that had been declared bankrupt and taken over by Indian Affairs and he has turned it into an inspiration." (MacGregor, 2006, para. 17)
According to MacGregor (2006), "Chief Louie is tough. He is ... proud of the fact that his band fires its own people as well as hires them." He understands that there will always be those who disagree with him, but that does not prevent him from making courageous and honest decisions. As tough as he is, he says he is nothing compared to his mother. Especially, when it comes to how to deal with what she calls today's lazy aboriginal male youth. "Rent a plane," she told him, "and fly them all to Iraq. Dump 'em off and all the ones who make it back are keepers" (para.s 21-22).
When competent leaders in Indian country hold their tribal members accountable, one thing is for certain; their own people will attack them. Chief Louie's situation is no different. He is accused of abandoning their traditions in favor of money. Some people say he is "... sacrificing traditional First Nations culture and values at the altar of capitalism ..." (Findlay, 2009, para. 3). Chief Louie's response to this accusation is, "You're going to lose your language and culture faster in poverty than you will in economic development" (MacGregor, 2006, para. 27). To further defend his actions, he asserts his people come first. "I won't go to a meeting these days unless it has to do with creating jobs and making money," he said. "I spend my time on economic development and I don't care what you say; everything costs money. Even our traditional ceremonies cost money" (Findlay, 2009, para. 2). He goes on to chide fellow aboriginals "who claim to be following the 'red road' (adhering to traditional values and spirituality) while collecting a social assistance cheque" (Findlay, 2009, para. 3). Ironically, as a result of his focus on economic development, his band was able to build the beautiful Nk'Mip Desert Cultural Centre that promotes First Nations aboriginal culture.
Chief Louie does not discriminate. Nobody - First Nations people or the federal department of Indian affairs, which he says is "an inept bureaucracy that has perpetuated a First Nations welfare state" - is immune to his criticism (Findlay, 2009, para. 3). The bottom line is that he wants aboriginals to move "beyond entry-level jobs to real jobs they 'earn' - all the way to the boardrooms. He wants to see 'business manners' develop: showing up on time, working extra hours. The business lunch, he says, should be 'drive through,' and then right back at it" (MacGregor, 2006, para. 6).
I often point out in my Tribal Institute courses that most Indians love courageous and honest leaders and will follow them anywhere. This seems to be the case with Chief Louie. The audiences love his speeches. They are not turned off by his tough talk at all. And judging from the success his band has experienced over the last 20 years, I would say they have definitely followed his leadership. According to Findlay (2009):
"The Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corp. currently owns nine businesses, with annual revenues topping $13 million, including the award-winning Nk'Mip Cellars, the first First Nations-owned winery in the world. Every Christmas, 12 per cent of profits are distributed to band members. In 2005, more than 1,000 First Nations and non-First Nations were employed by OIB businesses and joint ventures. That same year, OIB Holdings generated nearly $2 million in lease payments from non-First Nations companies such as Calgary-based Bellstar Hotels & Resorts, which is putting the finishing touches on a four-star property - Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa - on the shores of Lake Osoyoos. Not too shabby for a band that has fewer members than your average urban high school has students" (para. 5-6).Finally, Chief Louie, "prides himself on being 'a stay-home chief who looks after the potholes in his own backyard' and wastes no time 'running around" the country (MacGregor, 2006, para. 30). Perhaps the best phrase Chief Louie has uttered is this one, "Get over it." Louie says, to the twenty per cent who don't like what he says or his leadership. "Get some counseling" (MacGregor, 2006, para. 29)
Findlay, A. (2009, December 11). Ruffling feathers: The tough-talking, no-bullshit genius of Chief Clarence Louie. ibrii. Retrieved from http://www.ibrii.com/n/95v6t
MacGregor, R. (2006, September 21). Indian Time doesn't cut it' for innovative chief with on-the-edge humor. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/article844275.ece