Chief Clarence Louie (y̓ilmixʷm ki law na) will receive an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, after serving as chief of the Osoyoos Indian Band (OIB) for 37 years.
“I look at this honorary degree as more for community recognition. It is an honour for the community and all the accomplishments of the Osoyoos Indian band,” says Louie, who was first elected in 1984.
“What I’ve accomplished as chief is not as an individual,” says the 61-year-old, whose name — y̓ilmixʷm ki law na — translates from nsyilxcən, the Syilx language, to English as “grizzly bear.”
“Anything the band has done, it has been as a team.”
With this honorary degree, Louie’s being recognized for consistently emphasizing “economic development as a means to improve his people’s standard of living,” and for demonstrating “his belief that First Nations leaders have a responsibility to incorporate First Nations language and culture in all socio‐economic initiatives as a means to preserve Indigenous heritage.”
“Under his direction, the Band has become a multi‐faceted corporation that owns and manages eleven businesses and five joint ventures, employing approximately one thousand people,” reads a statement from the university about his accomplishments.
When asked about his proudest accomplishment as chief, Louie says, “All the jobs.”
“My goal is to create jobs and make money for the reserve, so I can help to improve the standard and the quality of life for band members,” he tells IndigiNews. “You don’t have to be poor. You don’t have to beg for jobs and they don’t have to dig ditches.”
He says part of the reason he likes to focus on job creation is because he wants “to attract more university graduates” to the community.
“I always encourage young people to get a higher education and learn as much of the Okanagan language and culture [as they can],” he says. “Everybody should be learning and earning.”
Especially if they want a nice house, a good truck or a vacation, he says.
“I don’t know anybody on welfare that takes a vacation or travels the world or goes to Hawaii or Vegas on welfare. So you got to have a good job.”
Louie says that he’s chosen to serve his community this way because he likes to “work hard” and “accomplish things.”
“Being on council is one of the best ways of accomplishing things for your community,” he says.
At the same time, being the chief has its challenges, he says.
“Of course, the rez politics suck. Rez politics suck everywhere,” he says. “The hatred and bitterness of elections.”
You just have to put up with it, as it’s part of the job, he says. “You can’t please, everybody.”
Louie will be recognized by UBC alongside 17 other honorary degree recipients in a virtual ceremony on June 2.
“Our honorary degree recipients are a remarkable group of people that are making a difference in their communities both globally and locally,” says Lesley Cormack, deputy vice-chancellor and principal of UBC Okanagan, in a media release.