In his short time as chief of the Lower Kootenay Band, Jason Louie admits that the job brings with it many challenges. He has also learned that he and his community have plenty of supporters around the Kootenays.
Louie spoke to the Regional District of Central Kootenay on Sept. 22 at the invitation of board chair John Kettle, whose Area A includes the Lower Kootenay community.
“I think it’s important to include Chief Louie and his council in the local government loop,” Kettle said. “The LKB has a long history in our area and it will play an important role in our future.”
Louie opened his remarks to the RDCK meeting in Nelson with a traditional Ktunaxa greeting — he also teaches his native tongue to Yaqan Nukiy School students.
“I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be,” Louie admitted to the board. “Our community has lots of issues to deal with, both internally and externally.”
Louie and his band council have hired a new administrator and director of finances, and have worked to open up council business to residents.
While the changes — described by some as happening too slowly and by others as being unnecessary — have been accompanied by controversy, Louie said they need to happen to ensure a better future for the children of Lower Kootenay. He related a story to the RDCK in an attempt to illustrate the importance of youth.
“Yaqan Nukiy has always been a small band and it has always had enemy tribes,” he began.
He went on to tell the story about an Alberta tribe that came to the Kootenays and took many of the band’s horses. The chiefs and warriors were at a loss about what to do, but eventually derived a plan to go to Alberta and attempt to recover the valuable animals.
When the Kootenay group arrived they found a huge village, with teepees set up to surround a corral of horses in the centre. It suddenly became apparent that the mission would be difficult — about 20 members of the Ktunaxa nation were about to tackle hundreds of Blackfoot Indians. Two youngsters were included in the group. They had volunteered but were accepted for the mission only after considerable debate.
As the Kootenay Indians surveyed the scene, a storm started and rain pelted down, almost instantly turning the ground into a mud bog. The adults began to get wet — and cold — feet and began to talk about abandoning the mission as a hopeless cause.
“We should just go home,” some concluded. But the youngsters implored their elders to continue, pointing out that the rain had also forced their enemy, and even their dogs, to take refuge in their teepees. Taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity, the small group was able to get to the horses and retrieve not only their stolen stock, but the Blackfoot horses, too.
“If those two boys hadn’t been included, our people wouldn’t have got the horses back,” Louie said. “As chief of the Lower Kootenay Band, I, along with my council, must think of what is best for our children and our future.”
Louie went on to tell the RDCK directors a bit of his personal background, explaining that his time in the Canadian army had taught him to be persistent and to always strive for the best. He also spoke about ongoing negotiations with the regional district over the Lister landfill site that borders on LKB land.
“We had a historical meeting recently — it took place on LKB lands and it was one of the most important meetings in our history,” he said.
Later, Louie said that the meeting had helped the RDCK representatives appreciate the importance of the land to the Lower Kootenay people, and said he was optimistic that an agreement would be reached.
“I’ve been chief for seven months, but it feels like seven years,” he said. “It has been a long road and there is much to be done. We have worked to establish partnerships with other groups — the RDCK, the Town of Creston, the RCMP — and achieved positive results.”
After questions and comments from directors, Kettle presented Louie with an RDCK jacket as a token of thanks.
“I think it was a pivotal moment,” said Kettle. “The board got to see the chief in more than a third person sense. …
“I think Chief Louie’s message was incredibly well received. It made a strong impression that he made the effort to sit in front of us and talk about issues that are important to all of us.”
“It was an important day for the regional district and the Lower Kootenay Band,” Creston Mayor Ron Toyota said on Monday. “Our council has worked to establish a positive working relationship with the Lower Kootenay community because we all share the Creston Valley as our home. Chief Louie’s appearance at the RDCK meeting was another step in developing strong relationships throughout the Kootenays.”