Osoyoos Indian Band wins bid for first provincial jail on reserve land - Macleans.ca

Osoyoos Indian Band wins bid for first provincial jail on reserve land

Chief wants more jobs training for Aboriginal inmates


Grant Harder

In 2007, Chief Clarence Louie, the no-nonsense leader of British Columbia’s Osoyoos Indian Band, was appointed to a five-person federal panel reviewing the operations of the Correctional Service of Canada. There was much that troubled him, as he toured federal penitentiaries. He was distressed, but hardly surprised, by the overrepresentation of First Nations and other Aboriginal offenders in prison. Most anyone from a First Nations community has a friend or relative who has done jail time, he said in an interview. But what frustrated him, in that context, was the mushy morass of well-meaning “Aboriginal” programs to heal and empower, or to find one’s inner warrior.

“That’s what pissed me off, when I saw the programming they were doing: sweat house, sweat house, sweat house, all that healing and cultural stuff,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with spirituality to a degree, but they were doing too much of it and not enough employment and training, like welders or carpenters or electricians. I want to see First Nations programs based around jobs.”

The study was noted and filed in the grand tradition of task force reports. But Louie has taken his case for reform a giant step further. He and the 500-member band have gone into the prison business. The band beat out several contenders to win provincial approval to locate a new 378-cell Okanagan Correctional Centre on its reserve lands. The $200-million project will generate some 500 direct and 500 indirect jobs, once construction begins next year. The high-security prison, expected to open in 2016, will employ 240 staff and create many more spinoff jobs.

Louie believes it’s the first provincial prison on reserve lands. While the band won’t operate the facility, it will reap significant revenue from the initial 60-year lease, and the grants in lieu of taxes. It also intends to be an active landlord, meeting soon with the three potential contractors to discuss band-employment prospects, and with the province to offer ideas for more practical employment-based Aboriginal programs.

At first glance, the optics of a band bidding for a prison seem akin to a deal with the devil. Some 27 per cent of adults in provincial and territorial custody are First Nations, Metis or Inuit people, though they represent just four per cent of the national population. In federal prisons, where inmates serve sentences of two years or longer, 23 per cent are Aboriginal—a number that increased by 56 per cent in the last decade and represents an incarceration rate 10 times that of non-Aboriginal people, says a recent report by the federal Office of the Correctional Investigator.

The prospect of a reserve-based prison didn’t sit well with some band members, Louie admits. “But the majority of our people voted ‘yes’ for the usual reasons, no different than off-reserve: jobs and money.” He says the positives outweigh the negatives. “You can look at the stats. Yeah, there’s overrepresentation in prisons. There always has been and always will be, probably. Is not having a prison on the reserve going to change that? To me, it won’t make it worse. If anything, it might help it,” he says. “How do we help the Aboriginal offender if we have the not-in-my-backyard attitude?”

The Osoyoos band, located in the semi-desert of the South Okanagan, has its hand in a host of projects, from housing and resort development to commercial, industrial and agricultural leases, as well as its own vineyards and award-winning Nk’Mip winery. B.C. Premier Christy Clark said one reason the bid was successful was the band’s distinction as owning the most businesses per capita of any First Nation in Canada. It helped, too, that the neighbouring communities of Osoyoos and Oliver are enthusiastic proponents.

Louie wants the fenced, 10.5-hectare site to include horse stables, giving prisoners, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike, a chance to bond with animals. “We’re a horse-based culture,” he says. There will, of course, be a sweat lodge and cultural programming, but he hopes the prison will have a strong focus on trades training. “Obviously, the [incarceration] numbers prove their high-priced psychologists and sociologists, all of this New Age bulls–t, isn’t working for First Nations people.” He was disgusted, when touring an Edmonton prison, to see Aboriginal people working at crafts. “I don’t know anybody that can make a living, pay a mortgage or keep their kids in hockey by making drums and teepees.”

At the very least, there will be well-paying jobs for prison staff, many of them Aboriginal people, he hopes. As for the inmates, he doesn’t expect change overnight. “I hope our people don’t wind up in this prison,” he says, “but I’m realistic enough to know that some of our people will.”


Osoyoos Indian Band wins bid for first provincial jail on reserve land

  1. “I want to see First Nations programs based around jobs.”

    That’s exactly the attitude that made the Osoyoos Band an economic success.

    The more time and effort spent on ‘being indian’, the less time and effort is available for developing oneself, becoming self sufficient, learning valuable skills, etc.

    • Which is the ‘white man’s culture’….

      • Exactly.

        Time to stop using racist labels like “apple” (red outside, white inside) to berate successful indians and isolate them from their families and friends.

        • Except they don’t want the ‘white man’s culture’.

          We’ve tried assimilation before.

          • The Osoyoos band seems to be doing extremely well adapting to what you sneeringly call ‘white man’s culture’.

            In truth it’s a question of adding what works to indian culture and dropping what manifestly does not work. If that means borrowing aspects from one of the most successful mixtures of different culture available (eg- the various Canadian cultures) then that’s what they need to do.

          • Hungarians, Italians, Danes, Greeks….are all European.

            They are not, however, all the same.

            True of FN as well.

          • So? All those ethnicities in Canada borrow freely from all the other cultures in Canada, and none of them shows any signs of statistically significant underperformance on any social metric.

            Indians, we are regularly told, are significantly more dysfunctional than the average on a multitude of socioeconomic measures.

            But indians who have left the ‘indian culture’ are an exception, for their metrics are trivially different from those of the rest of the population.

            It’s time to stop with the nonsense that indian spirituality, sweat lodges, and other stuff is going to fix the socioeconomic underperformance problems. It’s not happening now, and there’s no mechanism whereby it even could happen as a result of teaching indian culture.

          • We’ve tried ‘assimilation’ before…several times….with disasterous results.

            So they’re not keen to do it again. No matter how much you bluster.

          • Whatever you want to call ‘assimilation’, what is working for the most successful indians is integrating into the society and economy that surrounds them.

            The worst examples of failure are associated with isolationism and exclusionism on reserves.

            The ‘traditional way of living’ simply does not generate the wealth necessary to sustain the sort of standard of living to which nearly everyone, including indians, aspires.

          • You are making assumptions here.

            a) that you have the best culture in the world

            b) that everyone else wants to copy it

            Neither are true.

          • The only assumption is that measures of socioeconomic performance are meaningful.

            Indian culture has thus far led to serious underperformance on a large number of metrics.

            The evidence is clear; it doesn;t work well.

            YOU may want to leave indians mouldering in some backwater cultural concept, but don’t ever think you’re doing anyone any favours by it.

          • The measures of ‘socioeconomic performance’ are meaningful….to you. Not to everyone.

            Perhaps FN aren’t concerned with your ‘metrics’

            Had you paid attention all this time you’d know I want us to deal fairly and properly with FN …..and we haven’t done so in 3 centuries.

            One of the proper fair ways of dealing with them is to stop telling them what to do….and how to live.

            PS…and ‘Indians’ come from India.

          • Haw haw haw… the ‘first nations’ and the indians who live on them constantly complain about their standard of living, incidence of criminality in their communities, levels of alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, child abandonment, housing conditions, and a host of other typical socioeconomic measures.

            You want the rest of society to ‘deal with’ the indians, whereas I would prefer the indians be permitted to deal with themselves.

            PS: The eponymous Indian Act establishes the official terminology.

          • Yes, because we have yet to honour the treaties we signed.

            I repeat….FN must be free to determine their own way.

            And no, some govt bureaucrat cannot rearrange geography to suit the long-dead….and very confused….Columbus. Sorry.

          • The treaties are and have been lavishly overpaid, due to a combination of government generosity and a biased Court system.

            And your insistence on the ‘first nations’ doing (whatever) at the expense of the indians who live on them bespeaks an insouciance to the fate of actual people that is discouraging.

          • The treaties have never been honoured.

            You have the proverbial forked tongue backed up by ignorance/arrogance

          • Heh heh heh… you should read them.

            There’s nothing about revenue from minerals or timber other than those found on the reserves, for example, nothing about ‘consultation’ or indeed any influence whatsoever over land outside the reserves.


          • I’ve been familiar with them since before you were born…..and the constitution.

            You’re still trying to steal everything.

          • Heh heh heh… so why do persist in those falsehoods about the treaties not having been upheld, if you imagine yourself to be so familiar with them?

          • I know your reading level.

          • In any case what amounts to generating welfare payments for ‘first nations’ (or ‘rocking chair money’ as Clarence puts it) is not going to help the actual indians become sustainably self sufficient and prosperous.

          • You really need to get a life. You’ve commented nearly 2,000 times on this website. heh heh heh

  2. The saddest reserve I visited in the US was near the Grand Canyon. It had won the right to have a Federal Prison on the reserve. There were 2/3 of the population behind bars and 1/3 outside wondering why their town looked like a ghost town. What will the effect be on the reserve psyche?

  3. Chief Louie: Just keep making money & creating jobs. And thanks for not living in the past.

  4. You are very smart man, you should be running the country…

  5. Cultural stuff is considerably cheaper to put together than effective job training – I find it difficult to believe the possibility of funding for such programs was always there and just never taken advantage of before now.

    • There’s too much risk that the inmates might become sustainably self sufficient if they were able to get jobs, and thus out of the control of the chiefs and councils of the ‘first nations’.

      • You misunderstand me, as you do a great many things. This isn’t yet another “damn lazy injuns” argument, this is a “poor prison system overseen by too many Sun newspaper readers” argument.

        • I don’t think I misunderstood you, but merely offered one explanation of why funding was not directed at job training. It’s not a case of ‘lazy injuns’ but rather of chiefs greedy for the power base that having lots of dependents under their thrall gives to them.

          • problems with band council exist of course but they’re over-rated and it tends to be an all too easy excuse. “oh, everything would be fine but the bands are corrupt” is the new right wing canard to simplify a complex problem.

          • The attitude extends farther than that, to the halls of academia where folks such as Pam Palmater push the same rubbish onto naive students of aboriginal studies (or whatever the particular school calls its indian program).

            It means that the people who are being consulted or who are running the programs are inculcated with the idea that culture be attached to ethnicity (or race).

  6. I think our people need to be more in tuned with their background, culturistic dynamics. It may even wake them up to becoming better men than thinking that they are gonna be in jail most of their life. We can save the goodness in them and get to them before its too late and they have it in their mind that no one can save them.

    • It’s their background and culture that have landed them in gaol in the first place.

      • All stripped away by the churches and gov’t, buddy. What unceded territory do you live on? You seem to know a lot about external definitions of Canada’s FN people.

  7. Good for him – all that diversity, cultural sensitivity training, exploring your inner self etc is useless (and evaluations of such programs are left trying to figure out what the heck the programs were meant to do, usually can’t come up with anything except something around feeling good, so the evaluation report has to go with that).

    I like this guy and he has proven his worth over and over again. Now if only the other Indian chiefs were willing to do the same.

  8. This will be history in the making if it works,I have been incarcerated a few times in my life and the one thing that worked for me was the guilt and pain I felt . The guilt for again being in jail, and the pain I was causing my children and family.I believe imprisonment is just punishment. And I believe or justice system needs a serious overhaul. And the most serious offenders should face the harshest punishment .Broken people need to be fixed from the inside out.

  9. This is coming from the man who stated that a violent criminal involved in a sexual mutilation of a young woman should not be in prison but be allowed to “remain on-reserve”. That is disgusting.

    He does, however, make a valid point about jobs.

    I’d like to know what his views are on the “Gang Mentality” of the youth populating his reserve and what his plans are to try to combat that.

  10. Why can’t members of the Osoyoos Indian Band learn trades somewhere other than prison. They can apply to Okanagan College for bursaries and learn those skills there before they get into trouble with the law. The Band could set up their own funding initiative so their young people can find meaningful employment on or off the reserve. There must be dozens of jobs at the many OIB businesses and far more opportunity there than other young people have in small Okanagan towns. And with no income taxes to pay, First Nations youth can get a really good start in life. Or, use the millions they will be paid by Corrections Canada they could build their own trade schools and eventually take over the construction of their many housing and resort developments. Why are jobs so scarce on a reserve that boasts “a host of projects”. There is so much opportunity for them.