Before I forget…
Here are a few more excerpts from a forthcoming book by Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band. He shared this with us following a very productive ZOOM Conference we held a few weeks ago. These thoughts are primarily about Native Sports Logos & Life and they relate to a motto that he really endorses Get high on sports not drugs (Motto, Inchelium Native youth camp). Enjoy. And if you have any thoughts you wish to share with Chief Louis you can reach him at the Osoyoos Indian Band office in Oliver BC…
I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of sports to Native culture. One of my big misses in life is I didn’t get a chance to play minor hockey. Our single mom was raising several kids on her own and couldn’t afford to have us in hockey. We never got any good hockey equipment, only yard-sale tube skates that nobody else wanted. Sometimes we had to wear many socks to make the skates fit better. But we didn’t complain. I was happy just to lace ’em up.
I learned to skate on the creeks and river. In the Okanagan, the outdoor frozen pond season is short. I would find a small frozen pond and stay out there by myself or with my two brothers until dark. We were isolated from just about everyone else. Our nearest reserve neighbours would be more than a mile away. The Okanagan River doesn’t freeze over often so there was no opportunity to learn the game of hockey the way most other young people do in Canada. I didn’t get to skate in an arena until I was 16.
We played a lot of street hockey. There was no paved street only a dirt back yard. We would make our own sticks by getting broken ones and hammering on a blade and then bending the nails back so we wouldn’t cut each other with accidental (or not-so-accidental) slashes. We’d make our own goalie nets out of scrap lumber. We’d play until dark when we’d have to quit because we couldn’t see anymore. No street lights in those days.
I remember my mom often saying, Go outside and play. She would kick us out of the house. There was no sitting around watching TV for hours. We had the best playground in the world — the mountains and the river. We would run around in the mountains or play at the river all day. Often run home at night when the coyotes would howl and scare us.
Back then, people in Osoyoos had only a black-and-white TV with only two channels to watch. On weekends, after a full day of playing outside, we would watch football and hockey, and I became a real sports fan. I religiously still watch the Habs and Redskins play. As I mentioned before, sports is where I and many people started their leadership journey. Sports, has and will always be a big part of who I am.
I pitched in little league baseball and played most positions. My mom signed me up for it and I would pedal my bike to Oliver. I was also the lead-off hitter for whatever team I was on because I could always get on base. In part because I was a little guy with a small strike zone, in part because I was pretty good hitter. Little League baseball was very competitive back then. And back in those days very few Native kids played Little League. I was the only Indian on my team and became lifelong friends with many white kids. Again, sports breaks down race barriers. Later on, we played fastball and I pitched. We had two Native men’s fastball teams from the Rez and one women’s team. Osoyoos was the only Rez in the Okanagan territory to have two nice fastball diamonds side by side. The white teams in the area loved to play fastball on the Rez diamonds. I am grateful for the facilities previous Chiefs and councils and administrations built. The money to build these facilities came from a few land leases. Back then, we had a small population, but sports were a big part of our Rez culture. There were also two men’s hockey teams.
A lot of that, unfortunately, has been lost now. Most of the youth are not as sports active as the older guys once were. There is no more men’s hockey league in Oliver. In the 1980s there was a men’s rec league and it was very competitive. In the 1990s, however, they needed to attract new players as the old guard retired, so the organizers banned slap shots and watered down the league to a point where the competitiveness soon went downhill. Making things less competitive lowers the bar. Not keeping score and playing just for fun isn’t actually fun for those with the competitive juices in their veins. I disagree with anyone who says that traditionally, Native people were not competitive. I don’t know where that myth came from (again from non-sports people), but have heard some Natives use that as an excuse for why our people tend to be shy.
History shows that our people were highly competitive before the English and French showed up lost and hungry. No one can tell me horse and canoe races weren’t competitive. No one can tell me lacrosse wasn’t competitive. And go to a stick game, bone game or hand game and the competitive emotions run very high. It was broken treaties, reserve land rip-offs, the residential/boarding schools and corrupt Indian agents and churches who forced Natives to their knees and damaged our competitive spirit.
There is an old Chinese saying, In a system where no one fails — no one succeeds. By the late 1990’s there was virtually no Rez hockey or fastball teams on Osoyoos. No more fastball leagues, only slo-pitch, a game in which the catcher — such a key player in baseball and fastball — serves no other purpose than a janitor, picking up missed balls and sending them back to the pitcher. Still, it’s good to see the ball diamonds being used by younger people. My mom’s Get outside and play should be a rule everywhere. There is just no doubt in Osoyoos, as in virtually everywhere else, sports are suffering as youth spend too much time indoors and too much time twiddling their thumbs and fingers on video games or cell phones. Today “electronic addictions” are getting real bad among many youth.
Another important part of Native sports was always the lifelong friendships it creates between competitive teams from different Rez’ s. Every month in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a Native hockey, softball or basketball tournament close by. Most Native youth on every Rez in our territory knew each other either from playing or attending the Rez Hall dance that followed the tournaments. I made lifelong friends on every Rez in the Okanagan Territory on both sides of the border through sports. Today most OIB youth can’t name even one person their age on the other reservations/reserves. There are very few Native sports tournaments any more in the Okanagan Nation territory. That’s very sad. A big warrior shout out from me to all those Rez organizers of sports who keep the Native hockey, basketball, softball and any sport going.
Today I see too many youth walking or sitting around with their heads down, holding onto the black rock — cell phone. As one of my Elders called it — the head-down generation. And I hear youth are bored or something on Facebook has upset them and they’ve got nothing to do and so they get high or drunk. Remember, there are many things to Get high on — doesn’t have to be drugs or booze.
Years ago, I saw a few Rez kids on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State wearing T-shirts that said Get high on sports not drugs. That’s one of the best quotes I have ever seen! Get high on sports! Get high on going to the gym or go running and get a runners high. I love seeing my people jogging. Yeah! Get high on exercise. Get high on your language and culture (Indian Up)! Get high on hanging around animals. Get high on reading! Get high on personal growth and lifelong learning! Get high on working hard and buying nice things. Get high on owning a nice “iron horse’ (car, truck or motorcycle). Get high on hanging around hard working successful people. Get high cm being around your family — especially the little ones. Get high on bringing your grandkids to the playground and watching their smiling face. Get high on hanging around the old timers and listening to their stories. Go get a Harley high.
A Harley high is one of the best. After work, or weekends when the weather is nice, my good medicine and therapy is to start up one of my Iron Horses and get out on the road and crank up the tunes and go for a motorcycle ride. And get some wind and look at the land. I got plenty to keep me high, every day of every week of every year.
If my vehicle ever breaks down and I am stuck on the side of the road, I hope I have a Blackhawks, Redskins, Seminal, Braves, Chiefs, or Warriors jersey to put on. Because I know that there are thousands of real sports fans out there who once they spot a Native jersey will not hesitate to pull over and help out a fellow fan.
Long live Native sports names and logos!
Thank you, Chief Louie… And let’s get more of those parks under your management too!!