As per usual, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine is taking advantage of the federal election in order to put his hand out for more money. Hey why not? Effective lobbying means pressuring political figures at times when they are more receptive and there is no better time than during a federal election. While Fontain is excellent at highlighting the suffering and poverty that is occurring on our reservations in Canada, he never seems to be able to point to any solution aside from demanding more funding be thrown at the problem.
While cutting money off from reservations would certainly lead to a social disaster like none we have ever seen, spending more on that broken system will not lead to any improvement in the lives of the average native either. Spending has been increasing dramatically from all levels of government on aboriginal issues. Despite the extra dollars, we can see an accelerating decrease in the status of life on most reservations in Canada. I have spent most of my adult life working in isolated Northern communities that are predominantly populated by natives. Witnessing the conditions that these people are living within and the speed of decline of their conditions is distressing to say the least.
The most troubling aspect that I observe is the general attitudes of a major part of the native community. Defeatism, embitterment lack of pride and a deep rooted sense of entitlement is endemic, particularly among youth. This does not bode well for the future and no amount of money will change this growing outlook.
What is required is strong leadership and management in order to restore the sense of pride and ambition that so many natives have lost. The Assembly of First Nations falls far short in the department of leadership and I do hope that their influence falls by the wayside as individual bands begin to pursue success.
It is easy to point out shortcomings and failures on the part of many bands and reservations, the examples are unfortunately myriad. What is more productive however is to point out the success stories and highlight them in hopes that other bands learn to emulate them.
Two bands and their leaders are very worthy of highlighting as successful models. One is the Membertou Band of Nova Scotia led by Chief Terrance Paul, the other is the Osoyoos BC band led by Chief Clarence Louis.
Many have recognized that the development of business on reservations can be a path to increased independence by the bands and their members. There is tremendous potential as reservations have an often completely untapped labor potential, can be geographically well placed for all sorts of business development from raw resources to tourism native reservations enjoy tax and regulation advantages that other jurisdictions do not have. There are a few reasons that business and outside investment has not exploded on native reservations. There have been many examples of corruption on reservations, courts are not eager to enforce contractual obligations on the part of aboriginal businesses and often reservations simply are not prepared to properly manage and maintain a business.
On the Membertou reservation, Chief Paul recognized this and took the initiative in order to turn his reservation into an attractive place to do business. Paul had the reservation pursue ISO 9001 certification. This can be a tough process to endure and it takes years of dedication. In 2002 that ISO recognition was earned and the results of this have been striking.
ISO 2001 as defined by Wikipedia:
ISO 9000 is a family of standards for quality management systems. ISO 9000 is maintained by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization and is administered by accreditation and certification bodies. Some of the requirements in ISO 9001 (which is one of the standards in the ISO 9000 family) include
* a set of procedures that cover all key processes in the business;
* monitoring processes to ensure they are effective;
* keeping adequate records;
* checking output for defects, with appropriate and corrective action where necessary;
* regularly reviewing individual processes and the quality system itself for effectiveness; and
* facilitating continual improvement
A company or organization that has been independently audited and certified to be in conformance with ISO 9001 may publicly state that it is “ISO 9001 certified” or “ISO 9001 registered”. Certification to an ISO 9000 standard does not guarantee any quality of end products and services; rather, it certifies that formalized business processes are being applied. Indeed, some companies enter the ISO 9001 certification as a marketing tool.
The ISO certification alone is hardly enough to change everything, but what it did provide was an assurance of accountability and good management to both the band membership and the business/consumer community. This helped raise the pride and ambition required in order for band members to get involved in the formation and management of new businesses and has helped guide the band council in the ongoing management of these ventures.
In 1995 the Membertou Band had 37 employees, was operating on a $4 million dollar budget while dealing with a $1 million dollar annual operating deficit.
Over the last ten years, Membertou’s budget has grown from 4 million dollars, to a current 65 million dollar operating budget. The number of employees has jumped from 37 to 531 to date. There are many new internal departments and businesses such as the Membertou Market, Membertou Advanced Solutions, Membertou Mapping Service, Membertou Quality Management Services, and most recently the prestigious Membertou Trade and Convention Centre.
Last August I had the opportunity to play a round of golf on the Nk’Mip Canyon Desert Golf course near Osoyoos. On the down side, my golf game is still terrible. On the upside, the golf course, winery and resort that has been created by Chief Clarence Louie is outright world class. Everything was impressive from the service, to the construction to the wine in itself.
The creation of that resort among other successful initiatives on the part of the Osoyoos band can be directly attributed to the leadership and attitude of of their ambitious and outspoken Chief.
In a reading a presentation Chief Louie gave to an aboriginal conference held in Fort McMurray in 2006, it is hard not to see the ambition and courage shown by Louie when speaking to a group that is often not receptive to change.
September 21, 2006 at 2:26 AM EDT
FORT McMURRAY — The man with the PowerPoint presentation is miffed.
He is speaking to a large aboriginal conference and some of the attendees, including a few who hold high office, have straggled in.
“I can’t stand people who are late,” he says into the microphone.
“Indian Time doesn’t cut it.”
Some giggle, but no one is quite sure how far he is going to go. Just sit back and listen:
“My first rule for success is ‘Show up on time.’ My No. 2 rule for success is follow Rule No. 1.”
“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.”
He pauses, seeming to gauge whether he dare, then does.
“People often say to me, ‘How you doin’?’ Geez — I’m working with Indians — what do you think?”
Now they are openly laughing … applauding. Clarence Louie is everything that was advertised — and more.
“Our ancestors worked for a living,” he says. “So should you.”
He is, fortunately, aboriginal himself. If someone else stood up and said these things — the white columnist standing there with his mouth open, for example — “You’d be seen as a racist.” Instead, Chief Clarence Louie is seen, increasingly, as one of the most interesting and innovative native leaders in the country — even though he avoids national politics.
He has come here to Fort McMurray because the aboriginal community needs, desperately, to start talking about economic development and what all this multibillion-dollar oil madness might mean, for good and for bad.
Clarence Louie is chief — and CEO — of the Osoyoos Band in British Columbia’s South Okanagan. He is 44 years old, 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 in into an inspiration.
In 2000, the band set a goal of becoming self-sufficient in five years. They’re there.
The Osoyoos, 432 strong, own, among other things, a vineyard, a winery, a golf course and a tourist resort, and they are partners in the Baldy Mountainski development. They have more businesses per capita than any first nation in Canada.
There are not only enough jobs for everyone, there are so many jobs being created that there are now members of 13 other tribal communities working for the Osoyoos. The little band contributes $40-million a year to the area economy.
Chief Louie is tough. He is as proud of the fact that his band fires its own people as well as hires them. He has his mottos pasted throughout the “Rez.” He believes there is “no such thing as consensus,” that there will always be those who disagree. And, he says, he is milquetoast compared to his own mother when it comes to how today’s lazy aboriginal youth, almost exclusively male, should be dealt with.
“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. Right on, Mom.”
The message he has brought here to the Chipewyan, Dene and Cree who live around the oil sands is equally direct: Get involved, create jobs — and meaningful jobs, not just “window dressing” for the oil companies.
“The biggest employer,” he says, “shouldn’t be the band office.”
He also says the time has come to “get over it.” No more whining about 100-year-old failed experiments. No foolishly looking to the Queen to protect rights.
Louie says aboriginals here and along the Mackenzie Valley should not look at any sharing in development as “rocking-chair money” but as investment opportunity to create sustainable businesses. He wants them 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.
“You’re going to lose your language and culture faster in poverty than you will in economic development,” he says to those who say he is ignoring tradition.
Tough talk, at times shocking talk given the audience, but on this day in this community, they took it — and, judging by the response, they loved it.
“Eighty per cent like what I have to say,” Louie says, “Twenty per cent don’t. I always say to the 20 per cent, ‘Get over it. Chances are you’re never going to see me again and I’m never going to see you again. Get some counselling.’”
The first step, he says, is all about leadership. He prides himself on being “a stay-home chief who looks after the potholes in his own backyard” and wastes no time “running around fighting 100-year-old battles.
“The biggest challenge will be how you treat your own people.
“Blaming government? That time is over.”
In the two examples I have outlined above, what I have primarily pointed out was economic success. I understand that the social issues run deep. Pride and financial independence are what has been addressing these issues on the bands highlighted. Reservations need money to get out of their rut. Earned money instills pride and ambition and a sense of purpose. Handouts only add to dependency and entitlement. Lack of self-worth leads to substance abuse and crime. In a sense money is the solution to many native problems. It is how the money is generated that is key to long-term solutions however.
Chief Louie and Chief Paul demonstrated an ability to look outside the box for solutions to problems on their reservations. Both Chiefs did not wait for others to do the job, instead they demonstrated great leadership and guided their people to success. They did not simply lead people somewhere, they were key in changing the general attitudes of their people and bringing about an appetite for success.
There is coverage out there in the general media of these great Chiefs. The accomplishments of the Membertou and Osoyoos bands are often overshadowed by coverage of welfare beggars such as Phil Fontain and the ivory tower academic enablers who insist that more blind spending will solve native misery on reservations.
The failures and problems on reservations need to be pointed out. What is critical however is to highlight the success stories and how they happened.
I am confident that we will see further success from Chief Louie and Chief Paul in the future. What I really want to see though is more coverage of them and other native leaders being inspired to emulate the actions and attitudes of these Chiefs. If we can turn the trend on reservations in Canada around, we all will win.
Below is a link to a CBC piece on Louie that is well worth watching as well.
Thank you for pointing out the positive efforts – enough has been written about the negatives. Chief Louie may just have the charisma and energy to influence more chiefs toward an evolution of an entire society.
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