Opinion: As a Chief, I have visited more than 300 reservations. I don’t want to see any more broken windows

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A house with boarded windows is seen on a reservation in Ontario.Louis Palu /

Clarence Louis has been the head of the Ossouse Indian Band in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia for more than 35 years. He is the author of the new book Rage Rules: My Indictment of Canada’s and America’s Systemic Racism Against Indigenous Peoples, from which this essay has been adapted.


I like to be on the rez – any rez. I’ve set foot on over 300 of them in Canada and the United States. I want Indian reserves and reservations, rich or poor, in my travels. It’s an ancestral feeling, a heritage and a cultural feeling that I need. It’s so special to me to see people of rage young and old live and play on my rage.

But one thing that immediately catches my eye, and makes my heart heavy, is the broken windows of country houses. It is really sad to see some homes with many broken or boarded-up windows. In a reserve in northern Alberta I saw so many houses with boarded-up windows that I mistakenly thought the houses were empty and abandoned. I thought, Why can’t the leadership get rid of those eyeballs and break down those damn houses? The school teacher driving me around the ridge that day told me, “Those houses aren’t empty—the families live there. The way you tell if a house is empty is if the front door is engaged.”

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How can someone live in a house where they can’t even look out of the living room or bedroom window? I took pictures of houses that had boards mounted to each window and gritty painted on the walls and plywood window coverings. Families were still living in those houses! It felt like I was walking through the worst part of a big city. Not all races were in bad shape, but I felt very sorry for the children who were being raised in such homes. Nowhere in the world, it is right for children to grow up in a house with broken or boarded-up windows.

To me, broken windows are unacceptable.

Where’s the lead on that rez? Where are not only the chief and the members of the council, but where are all the leaders-department heads, social service people, senior positions and those who call themselves elders? Real leaders (not politicians) stand up for obvious problems. Yet just a few blocks away from this disaster area was a modern, fancy administration office. It was a contrast that I will never forget. It still pisses me off.

I was there to deliver the keynote address on the achievements of the Osoyus Indian Band. When I travel for reasons like this, and if time allows, I always ask someone to drive me to see two things: first, their band or tribal headquarters and other community buildings; and second, their housing and playgrounds where children play. I have been on the poorest reserves as well as those who have huge economic growth and am making millions of dollars, so I want to make it clear that I am not looking for fantasy and luxury. What I’m looking for is native to ownership. Do the people there see what they have? Do they respect and keep clean what they have?

Most of the Rays natives were raised without much material wealth. Their home was a two-bedroom, very modest home of classic Indian Aires matches. Most people, especially the old-timers, really cared about how little they had. My mom still lives in the two-bedroom Razz House that was built in the 1960s. I’ve also noticed that the best looking yards are usually old-timers. Older people suffered at the hands of federal and provincial and state governments and had to work very hard to survive. He had to respect the house that sheltered him and allowed him to raise his family. As a chief, I rarely get requests from old people to fix a broken door or window.

Your yard says a lot about you. If I see a yard that has garbage all around or is full of wrecked and abandoned vehicles, I take that as a public statement by the people who live there. So, when I’m on the ridge, I like to drive through community buildings and homes. When I return home, often my people ask me, usually the elderly, “How are our people to the east?” Or, “How are those Indians down north or down south?” or, “How do their houses and bands look like?”

I like that deep feeling our old people have about other tribal communities. Older people know other Indigenous communities who are suffering through the federal government’s similarly racist “Indian problem” policies. They know that, unfortunately, they are still regarded as the “Indian problem” by most Canadians and Americans.

While I was taking pictures of those boarded-up windows and the fallen houses on the north side, I saw a small child playing in the courtyard of one of the worst buildings. I nodded my head and swore that I would never allow that gruesome, sad, heart-wrenching image to appear on my ridge.

A few hours later, I was in a community hall full of local band members—some of them likely to live in those boarded-up homes. I shared my experience as a lead and spoke proudly about the economic and social achievements of the Osoyuz Indian Band. But I also want to tell people that Osoyoos is not a perfect community. There is laxity in my regimen. My Rage has some dirty yards and poorly maintained houses. Some of our community buildings could use a little gentle loving care. It is a mistake to think that Osoyus Rez, which has been called the “miracle in the desert”, is somehow without problems. We have our share, and we too, have a kick in the back every once in a while to remind us to roll up our sleeves, clean up our backyards, and put “original pride” in what we’ve created. is required.

As I concluded my talk, I wondered if I should mention how upset and disappointed I was with what I saw in that little drive through community. I know a politician won’t tell the truth if the truth will make him lose votes or put him in a bad light. But a leader knows what to say when he has to say it, and will always stand behind his statements. I later thought about bringing the broken windows private for some council members, as it would have been easier and more secure.

I ended up talking about the Osoyoos Indian Band and thanked the organizer for bringing me outside to talk to their rage. Then I told them that as natives we have to seek out each other and share our stories – the good, but also the bad. And in the Indian way of teaching, some of the best lessons come from bad stories. our coyote (unclip) Stories use examples of bad situations to teach people what No to do. I was even taught by a Mohawk leader that “scolding” is part of our culture and that sometimes old people have to scold young people to get back on track. This type of scolding is a natural way of teaching.

Remember, those who scold you are the ones who really care. No one likes to be scolded, but sometimes it is needed, and to do it one must be emotionally strong and ready to take it if being scolded doesn’t like what you are saying Is. It’s easy to say nothing and let the bad behavior continue. Simple, but not perfect.

Since I cared, I found I couldn’t get out of the hall I found there. I didn’t lag behind. I told them how ashamed I was to see the physical damage caused to the property and the emotional damage caused to the residents of Rez. I told him that no child should grow up in a house with broken windows. A window is the view of the outside world. It is very important for children to look out of their living room window every day and see what is outside – to see the sky, to see the rain or snow – so that even when they are indoors, their nature maintain a visual relationship with ,

I told them that we are all parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. When you leave your home, and your children or grandchildren are there, remember to look back and see who is looking out of those windows. You want to see those little faces watching you go by, sometimes waving their little hands. As a grandparent myself, I always look back at my living room window to see if my little granddaughter is watching me go there. That image always touches my heart. And when I go back to my yard at the end of a work day, I always look up at the living room window. To me, one of the best places in the world is to see my “little boss” jumping up and down, waving and smiling to welcome me home!

,indian up!” I told them sternly.

I spoke angrily about the conditions in some of the houses I visited. I asked the members to show some leadership and spray-paint the gritty. I spoke hundreds of times in front of a rage crowd, but this was the first time I felt the need to scold. I finished my talk and stood up with a microphone in my hand. The room was deadly quiet.

Then an old man started climbing on the stage. I thought he was going to tell me about his work, that I was not from that rage and that I had no right to judge the conditions there. The old man asked for the mic, and then spoke to both me and the silent room. I can’t remember the exact words he used, but it pretty much went like this: “I’m so ashamed that a leader from another community had to come here and see the damage. It’s ours to clean up the mess.” It’s time we stand up against those rage goons who are defaming us and harming our children’s childhood.

Someone else spoke up and said, “If we spray-paint at the abusers, the drug dealers will put them back.”

No one said anything, so I took the mic back and said, “Yeah, the crooks will probably spray-paint the houses, but the leadership of this reserve shouldn’t give up. The big question is who’s going to give up first.” Is it – good guys or bad guys?



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