A different day: A new approach to Reconciliation…
A fortunate moment came my way on Monday morning. As part of my activities moderating different ZOOM conversations, I was fortunate to have as a guest, Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB). The Chief is an exceptional person in many ways but foremost he is what cowboys would call a straight shooter. He is not given to much hyperbole, and this was definitely true on Monday.
The conversation was convened initially around the subject of who should manage our National Parks. This arose within a small group of thinkers when word came out that the U.S. President is considering turning over the management of USA National Parks to nearby Aboriginal communities. The reasoning is that then these communities could develop eco-tourism and related businesses around the edges of these parks and thus significantly enhance their economic development efforts – it would be a upward shift from simply building casinos. Since Canada already has a couple of examples of variants of this concept in the Haida Gwai (in the old Queen Charlotte Islands) and the Torngat Mountains National Park in Newfoundland (with the Inuit peoples) we thought this would be an excellent move on the part of the Canadian government.
But, before we started to push for this, we felt it would be essential to hear from an Aboriginal leader. And, since there is serious conversation going on about a potential National Park in the South Okanagan/Similkameen, it seemed most appropriate to invite Chief Louie into the conversation. He graciously agreed, although due to his hectic schedule (he oversees one of the more economically successful First Nations in the country with businesses in wines, resorts, a Cultural Centre, to name a few) he could only commit to fifteen minutes, perhaps twenty if the conversation became interesting. We agreed and the ZOOM conference was scheduled and because of the relevance of the topic we expanded the number of participants (of which there were a few).
At this time I will not go into the entire conversation except to say that the Chief was very enlightening in his comments. He also kept the conversation going for seventy minutes. Needless to say it moved beyond the bounds of the idea of managing a national park. However let me at least comment on that segment of the discussion. He believes that First Nations should have a serious role in the management of any park; they have been studying some options re the potential new park in their area. Unfortunately due to Covid-19 travel restrictions they have been unable to visit some of the sites where Aboriginal participation is significant. He hopes to correct that as soon as possible and get a clearer understanding of how they should best recommend Aboriginal participation in any potential park in their area (and there needs to be at least two First Nations directly involved, and perhaps two additional ones that are situated nearby). It was suggested that he also check out what is happening in Arizona, and some of the other southwestern U.S.A. states as Native interests in those states have significantly increased their presence in similar ventures. It was agreed though that we would begin to raise the issue in our circles and reach out especially to political leaders to promote the ideas (the first to positively respond will be those we then work closest with to get this on the agenda re management plans going forward for all National Parks).
But the conversation then moved into the area of Provincial Parks. The OIB actually had some of their land abruptly taken away from them many years ago which included some traditional fishing grounds. To make a long story short, there then was some new river management schemes in both the USA and in Canada that drastically reduced the number of salmon returning to the Okanagan. Part of the seized land was sold off and part was turned into a provincial park. Moreover in recent years the Okanagan First Nations Alliance (a cross-border connectivity) has begun to restore the salmon fishery. Now there can easily be a native fishery at their old grounds, especially by the provincial park. While the province has allowed the renaming of park with an Aboriginal name it has yet to turn over full control. The question seems unnecessary – it was taken away with the stroke of a pen, it could be returned with the stroke of a pen!!
This ought not to be a difficult move. The Band has already taken over another provincial park in its territory when an ancient grave site was discovered on a park on Osoyoos Lake. At first the province was simply going to transplant the bones until the OIB asked if that would happen should it have been white man’s bones discovered. The answer was no; cemeteries are special. So the Band immediately asserted its rights, asked the equipment operators to depart, and took over the control of the park which it still retains. And the park is doing just fine. But this then raised the question: in a time of increased strain on provincial recreational management personnel, why shouldn’t the idea of Aboriginal operations re provincial parks be extended throughout the province. Wherever there is a provincial park near an Aboriginal community, conversations should be started to determine new management approaches whereby the Aboriginals take the lead. This could be an excellent step in the reconciliation process. As important, it could be an avenue for employment and training; it might even be a way to encourage young Aboriginals to consider careers in park management and related recreational fields. Again, my associates have agreed to start conversations with political leaders to get the ball rolling on this matter. Moreover we are also going to recommend this to colleagues in other provinces, for the same reasons we see this working in British Columbia.
Talking about parks and their potential for drawing some identity and subsequent education to/about the local Aboriginal community then let the conversation to the question of non-Aboriginals using Aboriginal names and references, particularly in the world of sports. Once again, Chief Louie is uniquely positioned to make some thoughtful analysis. And once again, he flips the narrative. He starts by pointing out the Washington Redskins signed helmet he has in his office. I don’t find this surprising as I often have seen him at outdoor events wearing a Chicago Black Hawks hockey sweater (even though he is a Montréal Canadiens fan). But then he gets really going and asks whether the people who are lobbying for the removal of these names are, or ever have been, sports fans. Because, he says bluntly, if they were do they think the teams chose the names for negative reasons? He argues that these names honour Aboriginal people. He is more than happy to support teams that want to use a native reference in their names. He says that the use of the term Roughrider honours the toughness cowboys as does the term Stampeder, just like Tiger-Cats exalts the strength of the Tiger. He is not sure what it is that makes people think that the name is derogatory. He is sorry Washington (NFL) and Edmonton (CFL) are being forced by the politically correct to take down a name is his proud of.
As the time begins to run out (as all of us had commitments ensuing) he mentions that he is writing a book and he is going to share with us the chapter on Sports, which is already in draft form (though not fully edited). In turn we can share it, which I will do, at least in parts in a second section to this Epistle, in the next couple of days. Then he says something that really resonates. What annoys him most is the feeble attempts at reconciliation that he sees when people start their meetings by reference to the traditional lands they are on. He wants to know if any of them have ever been on an Indian reserve, let alone understand what they are saying. It was even pointed out that some think they are saying unseeded when it should be unceded which even then he says is improper. If people want to be part of the reconciliation process they should get to know their Aboriginal neighbours first, find ways to support them in pursuing real economic ventures, and attending the occasional open artistic or cultural event. But stay away from mouthing words that they don’t really understand, and aren’t really that accurate anyway.
By this time, seventy minutes had past. We all had experienced a real graduate seminar in leadership and Aboriginal issues and communications. Someday soon I am to have lunch with the Chief. It will be a delight I’m sure, because we will get to talk about other ideas he has, about new ventures his Band is developing, about how he sees the world post Covid… If you are ever in the Oliver/Osoyoos area, you may have trouble finding the Reserve – but look for the signs, among the vineyards, past the various businesses (including gas bars), near a Formula One quality private race track as well as a very interesting Cultural Centre which is near a Hyatt Resort, down the road from a provincial prison and a new Wine & Spirits Information Centre. It will be worth your while.