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!”Place Hold