This is the Life: Lower Kootenay Band working toward a better future

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As I wandered around the room at last week’s third annual Lower Kootenay Band open house I couldn’t help but think that there was a different feeling at the event than at last year’s.  Everyone, hosts and guests alike, seemed more relaxed.

Persistence is a good quality among those who want to make change. It’s too easy to try something, not get the results hoped for and then move on, or give up altogether. Since taking the chief’s position a couple of years ago, though, Jason Louie has worked tirelessly with chief operating officer Linda Berg and an administrative team that knows that a community of 200 simply can’t work in isolation.

The open house is a good way to show others in the Creston Valley, as well as representatives from US Customs and Border Protection, what is happening in Lower Kootenay. And the mix of organizations at the table I sat at was evidence of the genuine and growing sense that we have much to gain by co-operation. I sat with people from College of the Rockies, Kootenay Employment Services, Columbia Basin Trust, Ministry of Transportation and Creston Museum.

Around the community hall were displays of the various Lower Kootenay services, and photos of the past year’s events. A drum circle added to the festivities and the traditional lunch table promised guests wouldn’t leave hungry.

Louie is growing increasingly comfortable in his role as chief and his opening welcome showed his quick sense of humour, as well as a deep commitment to the betterment of his community. He and Berg clearly have a strong working relationship and her past experience and communications skills are tremendous assets.

But the program this year was largely Curtis Wullum’s. The band’s economic development officer, Wullum is Métis, but is clearly at home among his Lower Kootenay friends and co-workers. He presented a fascinating overview about the community and its efforts to develop economic opportunities — anyone interested can find the entire LKB economic strategic plan at Persistence and patience are evident throughout the document.

Coincidentally, in the week prior to the open house, I had the chance to interview one of Louie’s daughters, Misty. Memories of her as a bright, enthusiastic and athletic student at Prince Charles Secondary School came flooding back as we chatted. Misty has put on a lot of miles since graduating from high school. She did a five-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, including a five-month posting in Iraq, but there is none of the hardness about her that the military often develops in its personnel.

Now an air force reservist with plans to pursue a nursing degree, Misty is working with Creston and District Public Library to increase its connection with Lower Kootenay Band members. With her bright smile and obvious intelligence, she explained the efforts that are now in progress, including working with her community’s elders and knowledge-keepers to make recommendations for additions to the library’s collection.

I couldn’t resist asking her about the internal feuds that have grown between and among families in Lower Kootenays. Our conversation was somewhat private at that time and I won’t take advantage of the moment to reveal details, but it’s clearly a topic that bothers her and other young LKB members. It’s heartening, though, that she and others of her generation are showing no signs of walking away from their families, their communities, their culture and history.

At the open house we learned that Lower Kootenay has an advantage that the surrounding area doesn’t. Its population is growing. The percent of young people is not declining and they don’t seem to see urban living quite as appealing as their non-native counterparts.

We saw precisely that attitude in play in the last band council elections, where Robin Louie was elected. Now in his thirties, Robin, too, has travelled the world as a member of the armed forces. He has returned to the Creston Valley, experienced and educated, with his family. And he came back with the interest and motivation to serve in local politics.

Each time I make a connection with LKB residents, my optimism grows for the future of Lower Kootenay and its people. Here’s hoping the challenges are met with a continued persistence.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.