The Hypocrisy, Wrongheadedness and Tragedy (for Canada) of the Talented Chief Clarence Louis

 Rez Rules- My Indictment of Canada’s and America’s Systemic Racism Against Indigenous Peoples, by Chief Clarence Louis of the Osoyoos Indian Band[i]

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Chief Clarence Louis of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) in British Columbia’s beautiful and prosperous Okanagan Valley area, is frequently touted as the Aboriginal Chief who has shown by his strong, no-nonsense work ethic and entrepreneurial skill that Indian reserves can be self-supporting and independent “nations” existing within the nation of Canada.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin gushes in his Foreward to Chief Louis’ autobiography, Rez Rules, that with its five-star resort, championship golf club, cement plant, RV park and campground, gas bar, Tim Horton’s and “prestigious winery”, the Osoyoos Indian Reserve has become “a thriving self-sustaining community… a Miracle in the Desert.”

Chief Louis weighs in himself on this, declaring in the dedication portion of his book that “our people are reuniting with their Tribal past and becoming stronger, (which he describes as to “Indian up!”), and taking our rightful place as economically sovereign leaders and protectors of our traditional lands and waters.”

OIB’s mission statement, set out in it’s development corporation’s Corporate Plan 2018-2022  is “to achieve independence through economic development and to preserve and advance our Okanagan Nation culture for future generations.”

Rez Rules is a stylistically well-written but substantively terrible book, full of falsehoods, misrepresentations and material omissions.

Talented

Nonetheless there is a refreshing frankness in it about some of the well-known dysfunctions of Indian reserve life, and other aspects of so-called “Indianness”, that reinforces the universal truth that all humans are essentially the same, and which frankness, coming from such an accomplished, respected Indian Chief, on that ground alone makes it a worthwhile read. For instance, about Indian Band leadership he writes: “Council members generally care about nothing but keeping their jobs, collecting a paycheque, and spending government funds.”

Chief Louis expressly endorses the use of the word “Indian”, even going so far as to regularly refer to himself and other “Rez” residents as “Rezskins.” He loves Indian names and logos and ribs those “urban Indians” who don’t. One photograph in the book shows him proudly wearing a Chicago Black Hawks team sweater.

The man has a healthy sense of humour.

There’s also a ton of excellent character development advice, and business creation and leadership advice- along the standard lines of American motivational business gurus like Dale Carnegie and Chief Louis’ favorite, Zig Ziglar. This advice focuses on the need for personal discipline, relationship building, individual physical and mental fitness, purposeful work creating purposeful lives, showing up for work on time, (not, as he says, on “Indian time”), and deferring immediate personal and group gratification in favour of long-term goals and payoffs. It’s right out of the Rotary Club/Calvinist/Protestant- “Eurocentric” and “settler-colonial”- “tough love”, work ethic playbook. As a prescription for personal and group success in our modern, competitive, capitalist economy, it’s all good, tried and true advice, and he is to be commended for it.

Ironically, when Chief Louis urges his fellow Aboriginals to “Indian Up!” he is in effect telling them to somehow rid themselves of the learned helplessness inherent to reserve life and adopt the “white man’s” Protestant work ethic-based business ethos.

Chief Louis boldly and correctly says that far too many Indian reserves in Canada fail to follow any part of this advice, living instead that learned helplessness, “unfixed broken window, “gangsta crap”, welfare dependent, dysfunctional Rez culture” life, inevitably resulting in social and economic failure.

Hypocrisy

 Chief Louis’ basic message in Rez Rules to other Indian reserve Chiefs is: “Follow this Indian up! Protestant work ethic advice and your reserve too can have almost twice as many jobs on your reserve as there are Band members, (OIB has 540 members and 1000 jobs), and, like my Osoyoos reserve, your reserve too can become self-sustaining and economically sovereign and can preserve your Aboriginal culture for future generations!”

Well, no, and this is where the word “hypocrisy” in the title of this article comes in.

OIB’s economic independence and sovereignty is phony.

Like all Indian reserves, OIB is fundamentally and functionally dependent on Canada and the labours and payments of the Canadian taxpayer.

OIB, like all Indian reserves, benefits from government laws and policies that create an uneven business playing field, giving them a huge, unfair advantage over non-Aboriginal businesses.

The Osoyoos Indian Band pays no income tax whatsoever on its millions of dollars of revenues, and, in addition, is the annual recipient of huge amounts of grants, transfers and other such payments from the federal and B.C. government. Many of its economic “miracles” Chief Louis boasts about in Rez Rules would not have happened without these tax exemptions and massive transfers of free money from the ultimate, transferor, the Canadian taxpayer.

A Government of Canada Schedule of Federal Funding document shows that OIB has always received millions of dollars of Canadian taxpayer monies, in the form of grants, not loans, to develop these so-called miracles of Aboriginal business entrepreneurial skill.

In 2002 the Band received $2,522,000 for its winery, vineyard and vineyard infrastructure. In 2003 it received $192,000 to develop winery tours. In 2009 it received $1,283,000 to develop its business park. In 2010 it received another $1,500,000 from the Canadian taxpayer for the business park.

In 2011 the Band received another $5,400,000 (!) from the Canadian taxpayer for the business park.

A 2016 Great Northwest Wine article attributed the success of the Band’s winery to “enlightened government policy.” Maybe so, but this is an extravagant policy funded by free money from the Canadian taxpayer- free money unavailable to any non-Aboriginal business in similar circumstances.

The OIB Corporate Plan (above) projected Band business revenues for 2021 to be $34.4 million, up from $17.8 million in 2013, an increase of over 70%.  Despite the clear prosperity and lack of need for government support represented by this, the Band was given, and it accepted, during this recent period, almost $1.4 million in Canadian taxpayer-provided funding from the federal Indigenous Community Support Fund, which includes funding for “food security”, and  a $400,000 gift of British Columbia taxpayer dollars for the construction of a “traditional pit house” at its Cultural Centre.

The 2021-2022 financial statements for OIB show that government payments (i.e., payments to OIB by the Canadian taxpayer), totaled $12,186,035, and consisted of direct transfers, grants, Okanagan Nation Alliance, (almost entirely government funds), and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.   Total OIB revenues were $22,630,152, so payments from the Canadian taxpayer represented 53.8% of that total! 

In 2016, government payments comprised $4,523,572 of total revenues of 11,669,588, or 38.8 % of the total. 

From 2016 to 2022, government payments increased from $4,523,572 to $11,169,198- an increase of 147 %!

Some “independence”. Some “economic sovereignty”.

These statements show that OIB is sitting on an $18,520.96 pile of cash, the pile having grown by more than $6,000,000 from 2021.

They show OIB’s net financial assets total $59,453,757 and an accumulated surplus of $78,746,647, up almost $7,000,000 from 2021.

Adding to the hypocrisy behind Chief Louis’ claims of Aboriginal “nations” becoming self-sufficient and economically sovereign is the fact that, all of the many millions of dollars of revenues earned by OIB from its many government-subsidized businesses are, as stated, tax free revenues.

Section 87 of the Income Tax Act exempts from income tax income earned by Aboriginals and Aboriginal businesses on an Indian reserve.

Therefore, OIB pays no federal or provincial income tax whatsoever on these millions of dollars of revenue derived from its various businesses and other operations.

In addition, the hundreds of Osoyoos Band members employed on the reserve pay no federal or provincial income tax on their income. If they pay any tax at all they would pay it to OIB, which has the right under federal tax legislation to levy property taxes and tax on personal and business  income earned on its reserve. (It appears that at this time OIB levies property taxes on its numerous leaseholders, residential and commercial, but not personal or business income taxes.)

The situation, as with any Indian reserve in a remotely similar situation to that of OIB, is extremely unfair to the Canadian taxpayer and competing non-Aboriginal businesses. The reserve gets to keep all of the tax-free income it earns from its reserve business activities, and still gets to receive, without reduction or deduction, all the usual grants and transfers regularly paid by the Canadian taxpayer to Indian reserves by both their provincial and federal governments.

There’s no obligation on the part of the Indian reserve to have its grants and transfers reduced, even partially, by any part of the amount of tax-free income or other revenues it earns from business activities on its reserve.

This constitutes a form of double recovery by Indian reserves at the expense of the hard-pressed Canadian taxpayer, and, in the case of OIB, is an example of extreme unjust enrichment of an Indian reserve at the expense of ordinary non-Aboriginal Canadians. This kind of obviously unfair, resentment-causing situation inevitably produces the opposite of “reconciliation.”

If Chief Louis was the proudly independent, self-supporting, Aboriginal capitalist avatar he professes to be, he and OIB would walk their talk, and, having regard to the uneven business playing field they benefit from, the highlight of which is their annual, untaxed millions of dollars of personal and business income, agree to get off the government dole.

But who turns down free money? Few could be so saint-like as that.

The last chapter of Rez Rules is entitled: “Damn, I’m Lucky to be an Indian.”

With bad laws that permit the existence of this kind of divisive, dependency-perpetuating, double recovery-unjust enrichment situation, the talented Chief Louis is damn right on that one.

Wrongheadedness

In the unlikely event that Chief Louis were ever asked to respond to the above, he would no doubt say something to the effect that white, colonial “systemic racism” (referred to in the title of Rez Rules) perpetrated continuously against Aboriginal peoples since first contact, robbing them of them of their lands and cultures, justifies forever into the future the perpetuation of such reparations-like, race-based, preferential laws and policies. This is where the word “wrongheadedness” in the title of this article comes in.

Time and space limit the writer’s dealing with Chief Louis’ entire, indiscriminate, fact-free, blizzard-like, “indictment” of Canada’s past and present alleged “systemic racism” against Aboriginal peoples to only being able to deal with a few of the flakier snowflakes that make up Chief Louis’ blizzard.

Rez Rules is disturbingly racist in tone and, at times, in substance.  Chief Louis is clearly not a knowing racist, but nonetheless Rez Rules disturbingly reflects classical racist tropes centering on “blood”, a scientifically fictitious concept used to politically separate the “chosen” from the excluded “other”, which in Chief Louis’ case is the “chosen” membership of his lucky Band.  In this regard he writes about “bloodlines” and “blood connection to the land” being requisites. These race phrases are typical of a race society and are creepily reminiscent of German-Aryan “blood and soil “race talk from the 1930’s. (“blut und boden”.)

The Canadian Indian status card and Indian reserves are other examples of blut und boden, which depressingly, and wrongheadedly, like all other members of Canada’s elite classes, Chief Louis supports.

Chief Louis exhibits a superficial, context-free attitude towards the small, fixed treaty payments the federal Crown has been paying Indian bands since the treaties were signed, which he calls “disgraceful”.

 In this he wilfully ignores the above-discussed billions of dollars of non-treaty, discretionary transfers and grants that Canadians voluntarily pay to Aboriginal bands and groups every year, all, in terms of improved life styles, to no determinable benefit to the Bands which receive them.

He also wilfully ignores the above-discussed preferential government tax laws, and other government laws and policies that have made the phrase “fat cat”- a phrase he uses in Rez Rules to criticize “rich tribes (which) had gotten too fat cat Corporate America”- ironically applicable to him and his very rich Band.

His view of the much vaunted and never defined term “reconciliation” is a sadly materialistic one: “Reconciliation in the nation-to-nation relationship starts with land and money.”

He mindlessly and falsely accuses Canada of leaving “a trail of broken treaties”, but provides no examples, because there are none. In fact, Great Britain and Canada have dealt relatively honourably with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal peoples have been far more violent and “imperialist” towards each other than either Great Britain or Canada has been towards them. Chief Louis even acknowledges this when he writes: “Inter-tribal warfare was common…. No different from the Europeans, tribes fought and killed each other over territory.”   

And it is Aboriginal bands that are regularly breaking the treaties, not Canada.

Chief Louis is talented in business, but not in history. Propaganda yes, but not history.

Rez Rules is filled with shallow assertions about complex and nuanced historical matters.

Trying unsuccessfully to show that OIB’s present business success is a continuation of ancient, pre-contact Aboriginal culture, Chief Louis asserts that “First Nations were businesspeople and had business networks well established long before the French and English invaded our lands.”

This is patently false, (including the hyperbolic use of the word “invaded”). Pre-contact First Nations were mere pre-literate traders and barterers. The fact that they had far-flung trading-bartering relationships, as did all late- paleolithic peoples, did not make them “businesspeople”.

“Business”, as such, presupposes literacy and numeracy, which lead to business records and systematic calculations of costs, revenues, profits and losses.

“Business” involves what OIB is carrying on now, with, as its 2012-2022 financial statements (linked above) show, its four corporations and its Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation being involved in 11 Limited Partnerships:  a complex, Eurocentric web of tax, accounting and corporate planning and execution spun by OIB’s big city lawyers, business advisors and accountants.

Equally false is Chief Louis’ assertion that the original treaties created “a business relationship, not a dependency relationship.” Sadly, a dependency relationship is exactly what the treaties created, as patently evidenced by the Aboriginal situation across Canada today- as patently evidenced by OIB’s own financial statements! – leading one to the rueful conclusion that in retrospect, the creation of reserves by the treaties was a huge mistake.

 It is regrettable that Great Britain did not adopt the goal (but thankfully not the methods) of assimilation adopted by the Spanish in their “new world” colonies. Latin American countries today have problems, like all countries, but as exemplified by Mexico, they are not illiberal, socially divided, “separate but equal” race societies like Canada.

Chief Louis writes, without offering any supporting evidence, that residential schools were part of a federal government “crime against Indian children”, and that they and boarding schools “were the cruelest and most heartless federal government programs ever conceived by the Americans and Canadians.”

This is ridiculous. As he himself writes in Rez Rules: “In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, most of our people could not read or write.”

It would have been a crime for Canada not to attempt to teach Indian children to read and write!

Alexander Morris, who was heavily involved on behalf of the Canadian government in the making of some of the numbered treaties in the 1870’s, wrote in the Preface to his book The Treaties of Canada with the Indians of Manitoba and the North-West Territories, published in 1880, that means needed to be devised “whereby the Indians of the Fertile Belt can be rescued from the hard fate that otherwise awaits them, owing to the speedy destruction of the buffalo, hitherto the principle food supply of the Plains Indians.” For Morris, and for the Canadian governments of those times, that means was“the adoption of agricultural and pastoral pursuits”.This, he hoped, would open up to them “a future of promise, based upon the foundations of instruction and the many other advantages of civilized life”.

The Aboriginal treaty negotiators for Treaties 4, 5, 6 and 7 and 8, the latter signed in 1899, wanting that instruction, asked forschools and teachers, so that their people could better survive and thrive in the “capitalist” society that was all around them, and so provision for them was included.

Residential and boarding schools were necessary to give Aboriginal children living on remote reserves the opportunity to acquire the literacy and life skills they would inevitably need to survive, and possibly thrive, in the new urban, industrial world Canada was becoming. Their parents generally had to apply for them to attend. The renowned playwright and pianist Tomson Highway is just one example of the good that came from residential schools. Jesse Wente’s grandmother is another. Her father, the Chief of the Serpent River reserve west of Sudbury, sent her to the residential school in neighbouring Spanish.

The historical record directly contradicts the shopworn falsehoods about residential schools- including the copout excuse to cover up the failures and inherent sicknesses of the reserve system- the myth of “intergenerational trauma”– being constantly peddled by Aboriginal opportunists to historically illiterate journalists and politicians for money and power reasons.

Chief Louis’ most egregious example of peddling a historical falsehood in this area is his assertion: “In May of 2021, the skeletal remains of 215 children were discovered at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School.” This is a blatant falsehood. No Aboriginal child was ever reported missing. No remains of anything or anybody have ever been discovered, because, now two years later, the Kamloops Band still refuses to report a crime, release the report which started off the whole fraud, ask for a criminal investigation, or authorize an excavation. They know that the accusation they made is a lie, and they fear an investigation, including an excavation, will uncover their lie.

Chief Louis, by recklessly repeating the lies about residential schools and the Kamloops lie, joins the rest of Canada’s elites in blood libelling and betraying our ancestors. By doing this he betrays his own professed business ethics, which emphasize truthful, good faith dealing with others, betrays his own prescription for reconciliation, part of which is “telling the truth”, and he encourages other Indian leaders to make similar false, bad faith claims.

Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar would not be happy.

Tragedy for Canada

Chief Louis trumpets himself in Rez Rules as a great preserver of Aboriginal culture and traditions through his and OIB’s considerable business successes.

Rez Rules provides no evidence of this.

In fact, Rez Rules demonstrates the opposite.

It reaffirms what Canadians have always known for generations i.e., that ancient, pre-contact Aboriginal culture is dead, gone and irrecoverable, and has been so since the rise of industrialism and the end of the buffalo hunt and the fur trade in the late 1800’s.

Authentic, pre-contact Aboriginal culture was communistic. It was, by necessity, a sharing culture, and thus fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature. The Aboriginal worldview in this regard was expressed by Huron Chief Kandiaronk in his famous address to the Frenchman Baron de Lahontan at Montreal in 1695[ii]:

For the past six years I have bent my thoughts upon the state of the Europeans, and I cannot see anything in their actions that is not beneath a man. I truly think it is impossible for it to be otherwise as long as you stick to your measures of mine and thine.

I affirm that what you call silver is the devil of devils, the tyrant of the French, the source of all evil, the bane of souls and the slaughterhouse of the living. To pretend that you can live in the country of money and at the same time save one’s soul is as great a contradiction as for a man to go the bottom of a lake to preserve his life. Money is the father of luxury, lasciviousness, intrigues, lying, treachery, falseness- in a word, all the mischief in the world…. Consider this and then tell me if we are not correct in refusing to touch or so much as to look upon that cursed metal.

Contrast this with OIB’s 2021-2022 proto-capitalist Accumulated Surplus of “silver” totalling $78, 746,647.

Secondly, and more positively, Rez Rules demonstrates something else that Canadians have known for generations i.e., that Aboriginal people are as smart and capable as any other group of Canadians and that by adopting the assimilative laws, values and practices of Canadians in general- by adopting the principle of equality under the law- they too can achieve personal and group success in modern Canada, while still retaining the best values of their Aboriginal culture.

Chief Louis himself personifies this truth.

In the photograph on the cover or Rez Rules, there he sits on his $30,000 motorcycle, looking “gangsta” badass at the camera through his dark sunglasses, wearing riding chaps, an ersatz Plains Indian ceremonial war bonnet and a Montreal Canadians hockey sweater: the picture of a prosperous, consumerist, confident- cocky even- totally assimilated Canadian Aboriginal. There’s absolutely no trace of any “Okanagan Nation” culture in that picture, in any of the other pictures in the book, or in any other part of Rez Rules.

“Okanagan Nation culture” as a living ethos governing day to day OIB life is merely professed in Rez Rules. It is never demonstrated. That’s because, like all authentic, pre-contact Aboriginal cultures, it vanished long ago, to be replaced in the present time by the capitalistic “getting and spending” materialism and consumerism that is represented by that iconic image of Chief Louis sitting on his $30,000 motorcycle.

The same applies to the false idea of the Okanagan Nation culture, as it presently is, having anything to do with the “protection of traditional lands and waters.” There’s no evidence of that in Rez Rules. In fact, the opposite.  All the businesses being conducted on the Osoyoos reserve involved taking the land out of its natural state and altering it- sometimes polluting it- to suit the Band’s modern, capitalistic, “silver”-seeking  purposes.

The only real significance of “Okanagan Nation culture” in Rez Rules is that of a logo or a brand- mere surface words and images used to sell a concept or product. In this case the concepts or products Rez Rules is selling are, in addition to good business and lifestyle advice, the grievance myths perpetrated what Chief Louis himself correctly calls the Aboriginal “misery industry” for the purpose of extracting more money and power from non-Aboriginal Canadians and our federal and provincial governments.

Chief Clarence Louis personifies the tragic and shameful Canadian reality that our best and brightest citizens- those that make up our Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal elite classes- are devoted to maintaining, strengthening and expanding the illiberal, patently harmful, quasi-apartheid, race society that is Canada, where one race of Canadians are governed- in fact oppressed- by a different set of laws than those that govern all the other racial groups that make up the Canadian mosaic.[iii]

Chief Louis aptly quotes many famous business and political leaders whose examples inspire the various arguments and ideas he espouses in Rez Rules. For example, he writes:

 I often ask myself, “What would Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, or Chief Joseph do? What would Nelson Mandela do?” There is a Nelson Mandela quotation that I like very much like: History will judge us by the difference we make in every day lives of our children.”

Here’s another quote from the great Nelson Mandela, from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:

The very first step on the road to reconciliation is the complete dismantling of apartheid, and all the measures used to enforce it…An oppressive system cannot be reformed. It must be entirely cast aside.

Nelson Mandela bravely stood for the foundational Enlightenment principle that all citizens of a nation, regardless of their race, should be governed by one set of laws. That was the crux of his definition of “reconciliation”, unlike the sadly materialistic view of Chief Louis.

Chief Louis, following the lead of the rest of Canada’s elites, does not believe in equality under the law for all Canadians, regardless of race.

While he and they appropriate Nelson Mandela’s name and moral authority for their own self-advancing purposes, they tragically and hypocritically reject his foundational principle of equality under the law; the principle for which he sacrificed 27 years of his life in jail.

As fully detailed in Rez Rules and elsewhere, Aboriginal children- and Aboriginal peoples generally- occupy the lowest rungs of every measure of social well-being, and their situation is getting worse. The “separate but equal” status quo, which Chief Louis and the rest of Canada’s elites champion, and even want to expand, is oppressive to them. Referring to the Nelson Mandela quote that Chief Louis likes so much, the only difference that perpetuating the status quo is making is that it is making these children’s- and all Aboriginal peoples’- lives worse.

For this, history will judge harshly Canada’s present elites, including the talented Chief Clarence Louis and his book, Rez Rules.

Peter Best

Sudbury,

May 26, 2023


[i] McLelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2021

[ii] From Curious Dialogues with a Savage of Good Sense Who Has Travelled, by Louis-Armand de Lom d’Arce, Baron de Lahontan. Extract published in Lapham’s Quarterly -“Freedom”, Spring, 2023

[iii] Little, Brown & Company, New York, 1994

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