Two days after the first public showing of Seven Days With the Chief at the Tivoli Theatre, a documentary featuring Lower Kootenay Band Chief Jason Louie got a standing ovation at a conference in Kimberley.
Filmed and narrated by documentary filmmaker Christopher Horsethief, Seven Days With the Chief was recorded over seven days in 2017-2018 in attempt to illustrate the diverse challenges and issues that Louie deals with on a daily basis.
“I just want it to be the story that most people will never see,” the three-term chief says early in the 35-minute film.
“There’s no light switch that either sheds light on our future or hides our past. It is a tension found in more than one source,” Horsethief, the narrator, says to open the documentary.
“It requires us to constantly survey, consult and shift to meet the needs of both the old and the new. This tension rises when we engage difference, when we breach ideas to generate solutions to basic questions. Who signs cheques, takes out the trash, looks after the land or advocates for our children? Who works toward new schools, better drinking water? Who secures places to pray the way our parents, our grandparents and their grandparents have danced since the beginning of time?
“Unlike many Western leaders, there’s an added obstacle for today’s indigenous decision makers. It’s not enough to make decisions using the same values that have been passed down, offering us blueprints for maintaining our identity in whatever conversation we’re a part of. It also means learning an entirely new language, mastering the skills that our grandparents would have rejected, that their grandparents would likely not have understood.
“It means saying goodbye, going to school and travelling extensively. It means walking in two worlds, one foot planted in the ancient ways and the other traversing boundaries, reaching beyond our comfort zones and trying to master tools from the new world around us. We have to understand the concepts necessary to interface with the global marketplace. Ideals about resources and economic development unheard of just a few generations ago. We understand that surviving in this world means fighting for everything that we have.
“Today’s indigenous leaders need to understand the things that are very old, and also know how to translate those values into foreign conversations. Investment, taxation, funding, planning, budgets, growth, management and so on. Indigenous leaders have had this added layer that helps buffer indigenous ways from western incursion. Standing in the middle of that buffer means you also absorb all of the pressure. You flex, adapt, and you take up that tension. When it pulls, you pull back. And when it hits you it can become crushing.
“You don’t just represent the children living in your community today. You often represent their families, and the families that might resent you, their grandparents that might not even talk to you. And you represent all of their ancestors, who also happen to be your ancestors.
“I’ve worked with one of these leaders, watched him fight battles on many fronts, sometimes with Western structures, colonial powers and foreign decision makers that care little for us. At other times the battles are against our own people who disagree with him. Some are threatened by him. Others don’t think that a young person should hold that position. Yet, he was chosen, and he is dedicated to his job. “Twenty years ago he asked me to serve as his right hand. It’s given me an unprecedented view of the tension that he mediates, the constant pull back and forth, the stress, the joy, the frustration, the reward. When he asked me to collaborate on this project I knew it would be challenging, but I also knew it would be rewarding.”
With visuals including old and new photographs and filmed scenes showing Louie going about the day-to-day business of being a leader of his people, Seven Days With the Chief shows a man who has spent nine years in his position, facing legal and personal attacks led by his father, brother and uncle. It also shows a deeply spiritual, tenacious and determined leader, and a committed father and husband.
“This is my story. It’s not a campaign video, it’s a healing video,” Louie says. “It was our time for the world to know who the Lower Kootenay Band is, to build these bridges, and not these walls.”
Under his leadership, the Lower Kootenay Band school has grown to include a long waiting list of students, and has become popular with the non-indigenous population as well as LKB members. The Band has acquired Ainsworth Hot Springs and Morris Flowers as Louie remains steadfast in his determinatopm to make his community self-reliant.
He is quick to credit other Band Council members and the staff that fills management rolls.
“Our standards are high because we deserve it,” he says. “We shouldn’t have to settle for a mediocre education, a mediocre housing. And I’m not saying ‘me’, I’m saying ‘we’.
“This vision extends beyond tomorrow. It extends beyond next week, next month and next year. We’re talking about generations into the future.”
In a particularly moving scene, Louie speaks directly into the camera.
“It’s not a good day, today. It is April the 4th, 2018, and I am in in a really dark place,” he says. He has just received a summons to appear in court, and the stresses of chronic depression and a post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis are having their way.
“It’s moments like right now that I’m really questioning what I’m doing in this job. Is it even worth it?” he says.
After being shown to an invited guest list of about 70 people late in February, Louie and Creston Mayor Ron Toyota were invited to present Seven Days With the Chief and speak at a seminar in Kimberley sponsored by the Local Government Leadership Academy. It was attended by local government and First Nations elected officials and senior administrators in the East Kootenays.
“The documentary got a standing ovation,” Toyota said. “It was a very moving experience and it was a privilege to be there to support Chief Louie.”