Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
With almost 40 years as chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB), Clarence Louie has a lot of rules to live by and some are laid out in his new book Rez Rules.
Pay your bills! Especially your rent. Paying bills keeps your name in good standing.
Hang around hard-working people and get away from the lazy asses.
Pay your child support, unconditionally.
Not all his rules are in the book, however.
“I’ve been around this rodeo for 36 years. I know Indian politics. I know the rez culture…. It was hard to keep (the book) short. There’s so much s**t to say to the good and the bad. They actually cut me back …. It was over 500 pages and, man, it was hard cutting things out,” said Louie.
Rez Rules, My Indictment of Canada's and America's Systemic Racism Against Indigenous People, published by McClelland & Stewart, is still close to 350 pages.
It’s the book Louie says he’s been asked to write for the past 15 years. He was finally convinced to put pen to paper when in 2016 a Grade 4 girl, at her father’s suggestion, wrote him a letter asking him to be the subject of her report on a leader.
He says it’s important to write down the rules, or what some refer to as principles or guidelines, so people understand the code and culture. He also admits he hasn’t tallied the number of rules included in his book.
Louie has held the position of chief of the OIB since 1984, elected at 24 years of age. Since that time he has been named member of the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada, and in 2019 he became the first First Nation person to be inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
Under his leadership, the OIB is “thriving as a self-sustaining community that contributes significantly to the local and provincial economies,” writes Louie.
Louie makes it clear that there is a distinction to be made between a politician and a leader.
“Politicians look at opinion polls and decide what they’re going to say. Leaders don’t do that,” he said.
While politicians belong to parties and tow the party line, Louie admits that those running on reserve for chief or council often tow the family line.
“On some rezes people get elected just because they have the biggest families…. They’re not being elected on their education or their principles or their hard work,” he said.
Louie is as critical of rez politics as he is of federal politicians.
“Half of the problems are of our own making. Half of the problems are within our own inner circles. Half of our problem is poor leadership, lack of leadership,” he said.
Louie expects to get blowback for his harsh criticisms, but that’s okay, he says, because people are “not robots.”
“I hope the good discussion will come from the good side of the scale and …there’s always going to be idiots. There will always be 20 per cent of haters … My message is not to the haters…. My message is to the open-minded people, the reasonable people,” he said.
Louie’s book broaches both Canada and United States. He points out that “my people are put on both sides of the border. Any First Nation along the 49th parallel was split in half.”
Rez Rules covers a wide range of topics: the importance of First Nations breaking their dependency on government funding; how settlement claims should be invested for the future; the lack of pride on some reserves; the impact of residential schools and other government policies; the high unemployment rate on reserves; and the pride that comes from Native-related sports logos.
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin calls Rez Rules a “powerful book” and says, “Mark my words – future books will be quoting Chief Clarence Louie.”
“I love quotes. I love a good quote, and if some people think I have a good quote then that’s awesome,” said Louie.
Also “awesome,” he says, is if his book finds its way into the “prized book collection” of a prominent leader. Examining the books in bookcases of successful people is the first thing Louie does when he enters an office. The books you read, he contends, say a lot about a person.
Perhaps writing a book was the natural progression for a chief who has travelled across North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe and presented as a keynote speaker.
“People aren’t going to ask you to write a book unless you’ve been around for awhile, unless you’ve proven your worth, I guess,” he said.
“I finally decided, at my age, it’s now or never.”
Like his time as chief has shown, Louie’s focus is on First Nations and that is who Rez Rules is geared toward.
“Corporate Canada is my other audience I hope that reads this book … (and that) all the major corporations and major banks realize that First Nations businesses are big business nowadays. That’s only happened in my lifetime, in the last 20 or 30 years, that First Nations can put up their hand and say some of them are running with the big dogs,” said Louie.
Rez Rules goes on sale Nov. 16. It can be pre-ordered or purchased online at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566996/rez-rules-by-clarence-louie/
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.