Posted on 20 June 2012 by Keith Lacey
First Nations business leaders are on the cusp of creating more jobs and more wealth in the next decade than they have in the past 100 years, said Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie, the leader of the most economically successful First Nations band in Canada.
“Over the next 10 years, we will make more money and create more jobs than we have in the last 100 years. That’s what I see on the horizon,” said Louie, who was invited to provide the keynote address at the Pacific Northwest Economic Development Council (PNEDC) conference, which started Sunday and runs through today.
Business leaders from across British Columbia, Alberta, Washington State, Oregon and Idaho have registered for this year’s conference, which is taking place at the Watermark Resort in Osoyoos.
Louie gave his keynote address Sunday evening before a small, but receptive audience of about 30 conference participants at the Nk’ Mip Desert Cultural Centre.
After a century of Canadian First Nation bands and American reserves relying “far too heavily on government assistance”, hundreds of First Nation bands across North America have adopted a business-first philosophy to create jobs and wealth for their people and the Osoyoos Indian Band is proud to have been a leader over the past 25 years, said Louie.
Here in the South Okanagan, First Nations leaders in Westbank, Penticton and Peachland are working on finalizing major economic development projects that are going to create hundreds of jobs for their people and benefit their communities, said Louie.
In Peachland, First Nation leaders are working on developing a golf course with Greg Norman, one of the greatest golfers in history and one of the most prominent golf course architects working today anywhere in the world, said Louie.
“It’s no longer not business as usual,” said Louie. “I’ve been to more than 100 First Nations bands all around the world over these past few years … and I can tell you First Nations want to get back in business.
“We’ve had 100 years of the welfare system … and reliance on the government and welfare doesn’t get you anything.”
The same problems that have plagued the Canadian reserve system, such as unacceptably high unemployment and serious problems with substance abuse, have also plagued the American reservation system, but more and more First Nation leaders are realizing progressive economic development and creation of jobs is the only way to make permanent changes, said Louie.
“When I speak to my people, I tell them the only way things will change is you have to get involved in the economy … and economic development,” he said. “It’s so much better than having 80 per cent unemployment.”
The number of First Nation leaders who have adopted the OIB’s model of being masters of their own destiny through a concentration on economic development and job creation over the past decade across Canada and the United States is extremely positive and only going to get better in the coming decade, said Louie.
“There are so many examples now, I could not list them,” he said.
As the leader of the most successful First Nation band in Canada, Louie said he and his council realized more than 20 years ago that being progressive business leaders was the only way to turn things around and ensure his people would find good, meaningful work and the band would enjoy long-term success.
Twenty-five years after he joined the OIB council as a young man in his 20s, the band now makes tens of millions of dollars in profit each year operating numerous prosperous businesses in the South Okanagan with a payroll exceeding 500 employees.
In his 25 years in politics, Louie said he has attended only one Indian and Northern Affairs (INAC) national conference and doesn’t plan on attending many more in the future.
“I like meeting and working with business people,” he said. “I like to hang around business people. I’m only interested in creating jobs and bringing in more money and jobs and prosperity. That’s what I’m interested in.”
One of the highlights of his long career in public life just happened recently when Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison gave a keynote address at the British Columbia First Nations Economic Development conference in Vancouver, said Louie.
“I had always wanted to see a billionaire speaking to native people,” he said. “When Jim Pattison spoke at our economic development conference, I checked off a check mark on my bucket list.
“I want millionaires and billionaires to spend time with native people.”
Economic development must be the top priority with every First Nation leader in this country if other native bands are going to enjoy the kind of success the OIB has enjoyed for over 20 years, said Louie.
“Economic development is what pays for everything we enjoy,” he said. “It pays for education, it pays for healthcare, it pays for elder programs. Every program we offer to our people comes from economic development.”
Because of the success of the OIB and many other First Nations bands across the country, Canadian business owners are more open than ever to establishing solid business relationships that can benefit the bands and native people and Canada’s economy in general, said Louie.
The towns of Osoyoos and Oliver have a wonderful working relationship with the OIB and he doesn’t’ expect that to change any time soon as his people and residents of both communities have enjoyed mutual economic benefits for over two decades, he said.
When he meets people, the first thing he wants to know is their name and what they do for a living “because having a job gives you an identity” and something to be proud of, said Louie.
Nothing gives him greater satisfaction than hearing people say they love going to work in the morning, he said.
“When somebody says they love their job, I know that I’m doing my job and my job is to help create more jobs,” he said.
While far too many First Nation leaders remain stuck in blaming others and the federal government for high unemployment and lack of opportunity, the good news is so many others are seeking out and developing economic development for their people and significant positive change will result in the next 10-to-20 years, said Louie.
“Native people have to start making their own money … but you can’t erase 100 years of history overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take time.”