A common-sense blueprint for what the future of First Nations should look like as told through the fascinating life and legacy of a remarkable leader.
In 1984, at the age of twenty-four, Clarence Louie was elected Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band in the Okanagan Valley. Nineteen elections later, Chief Louie has led his community for nearly four decades. The story of how the Osoyoos Indian Band—“The Miracle in the Desert”—transformed from a Rez that once struggled with poverty into an economically independent people is well-known. Guided by his years growing up on the Rez, Chief Louie believes that economic and business independence are key to self-sufficiency, reconciliation, and justice for First Nations people.
In Rez Rules, Chief Louie writes about his youth in Osoyoos, from early mornings working in the vineyards, to playing and coaching sports, and attending a largely white school in Oliver, B.C. He remembers enrolling in the “Native American Studies” program at the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College in 1979 and falling in love with First Nations history. Learning about the historic significance of treaties was life-changing. He recalls his first involvement in activism: participating in a treaty bundle run across the country before embarking on a path of leadership. He and his band have worked hard to achieve economic growth and record levels of employment. Inspired by his ancestors’ working culture, and by the young people on the reserve, Chief Louie continues to work for First Nations’ self-sufficiency and independence.
Direct and passionate, Chief Louie brings together wide-ranging subjects: life on the Rez, including Rez language and humour; per capita payments; the role of elected chiefs; the devastating impact of residential schools; the need to look to culture and ceremony for governance and guidance; the use of Indigenous names and logos by professional sports teams; his love for motorcycle honour rides; and what makes a good leader. He takes aim at systemic racism and examines the relationship between First Nations and colonial Canada and the United States, and sounds a call to action for First Nations to “Indian Up!” and “never forget our past.” Offering leadership lessons on and off the Rez, this memoir describes the fascinating life and legacy of a remarkable leader and provides a common-sense blueprint for the future of First Nations communities. In it, Chief Louie writes, “Damn, I’m lucky to be an Indian!”
About the author
CLARENCE LOUIE has been chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band, in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, for over thirty-five years. In 2013, Maclean’s named him one of the “Top 50 Canadians to Watch.” In 2003, Louie was chosen by the U.S. Department of State as one of six First Nations leaders to review economic development in American Indian communities. In 2008, he received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He is a member of the Order of British Columbia, the Order of Canada, and in 2019, he was the first First Nations person to be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame. In 2021, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of British Columbia and an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University.
Excerpt: Rez Rules: My Indictment of Canada's and America's Systemic Racism Against Indigenous Peoples (by (author) Chief Clarence Louie)
From the Introduction
A book from a Chief is rare. Over the last ﬁfteen years or so, I have been asked by many people, both Native and non-Native, “When is your book coming out?” I have written many articles and have given hundreds of keynote speeches all over North America, as well as speeches in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and France, but when people asked me about putting my thoughts and what I have learned over those many years of leadership down on paper, I never gave it more than a casual thought.
It took a child to change my mind.
Back in December 2016 I received a letter from Siera, a little girl I had never met. Her grade four class was doing a project on leadership, and at the suggestion of her dad, she had selected me as someone to interview. I imagine her dad had heard of the Osoyoos Indian Band and me through the many media reports on the success of our economic and business development. The Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) has more businesses and joint ventures on a per capita basis than any other First Nation in Canada, a fact that has turned us into an economic power in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.
In Canada there are over three thousand federal Indian reserves. Some are very small (only a few acres), and the biggest is the Blood Tribe in Southern Alberta, which sprawls over some 350,000 acres. In the United States there are 326 federal Indian reservations, with the largest being the Navajo Nation, at sixteen million acres. White people in the U.S. call where Native people live “reservations.” In Canada, white people say “reserve.” We who live there call it simply “the Rez.”
My Rez, the Osoyoos Indian Band, is one of those rare First Nations that has more jobs than it does band members (540 members, with more than a thousand jobs). We own a golf course, cement company, cultural centre, RV park and campground, two gas bars, winery, vineyard, sewage and water utilities, and forestry operations, plus thousands of acres of leased property in vineyards, a hotel, preschool and grade school, and commercial and residential properties. We have gained national attention through such highly visible business pro-jects as our joint venture with Arterra Wines, Canada’s biggest wine producer. We had Canada’s most famous race car driver, Jacques Villeneuve, build his signature racetrack here on the Osoyoos Rez.
The Osoyoos Indian Band has focused on putting what I call the original “treaty relationship,” based on business and economic and social independence, into action. Not long ago, a Globe and Mail article called it “The Miracle in the Desert.” In a way, it is exactly that. The Osoyoos Indian Band proves that when a First Nation is not dependent (in a welfare state) but independent (in a business state) while contributing to the local, regional, and national economy, it is good for all of Canada and the United States.
In her own little-girl handwriting, Siera asked me ﬁve questions, and she said she hoped that I would respond in writing. Now, I had received requests like this before, from students of all ages from across the country. I’m always deeply honoured and I make sure to free up time to accommodate such requests. I have also written multi-page personal thoughts and feelings that I have shared from time to time with Osoyoos Indian Band staﬀ and members. But this was diﬀerent.
Siera’s questions were excellent. They reminded me of something often said by leadership expert John Maxwell: “Good leaders ask great questions.” I decided to answer the ﬁve questions in far more detail than a grade four student would need, as I also wanted to share my answers with my own kids as well as with members and staﬀ of the Osoyoos Indian Band, of which I have been Chief for over thirty-ﬁve years. I answered the little girl’s questions on leadership in many pages, and after my grown daughter Sarenna read my answers, she said, “Dad, you really should write a book.” That gave me the push I needed.
Recently, I received a surprise phone call from former prime minister of Canada Brian Mulroney. He told me, “The only thing that lives on in history are books. So write a book so your children and grand-children can read the words you leave behind.” This book is not a biography, but it is about my time as Chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band. It is about the leadership path I have been on since I started organizing sports teams as a teenager, and that continued later as I became a lifelong student of Native issues throughout North America. Most importantly, though, it’s going to tackle issues that have and continue to confront North America’s Native population (racism, multi-generational trauma, economic disparity), and it’s going to do so with some tough talk . . . it’s not always going to be pretty or popular or politically correct, but it’s going to be the truth, from someone who lives the Rez experience every day.
“Some people have said … there is no systemic racism in Canada. To those people I say, clearly you have not read the Indian Act. Chief Louie has spent a lifetime trying to rid Canada of such racism.”
—The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney
—The Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould
“A remarkable book. I ordered fifty copies for friends and family.”
—David Chilton, author of The Wealthy Barber
“We all want to see reconciliation. Chief Louie wants it too; here’s his plan.”
—Peter Mansbridge, former chief correspondent, CBC News
“A raw and honest perspective on First Nations leadership.”
—Manley A. Begay, Jr., former co-director, The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development
“A testament to the type of no-nonsense leadership we all long to see more of nowadays.”
—Chris Chelios, NHL Hall of Fame defenseman and former Chicago Blackhawks captain
“What is required is blunt truth telling like Chief Louie’s book.”
—Cindy Blackstock, executive director, First Nations Child & Family Caring Society
“Chief Louie is a wise man. His book will be endearing and entertaining to all.”
—Jim Pattison, CEO, The Jim Pattison Group