A message of optimism

Osoyoos First Nation Chief Clarence Louie gave a good speech at the recent High Prairie and Area Chamber of Commerce Small Business Week Gala.

For those who may not know, Osoyoos is now considered one of the most successful First Nations in Canada. Investments in tourist resorts, property development, golf courses, and even a winery have created jobs for a big part of the southern British Columbia area.

It was not always so.

In the mid-1980s, the Osoyoos First Nation lands were considered the “junk heap” of their region. The soil was crappy. The part of Osoyoos Lake the band bordered was basically considered a swamp. Even though the band had a campground, it was mostly avoided by huge numbers of tourists because of its location. Those tourists preferred camping in other grounds around the lake where the lake was deeper and “real.”

Louie became chief. He started turning things around. It took a long time and many, many years, as they say, to become an overnight success. Some observers say it was bound to happen. The band had all kinds of natural advantages, they say. So of course, success was inevitable.

They also say, in northern Alberta there just aren’t those advantages. So of course, Louie’s successes can’t be duplicated here.

Such talk is of course, complete and utter baloney. The only thing standing in the way of imitating Louie’s and his people’s success is attitude.

Where Louie’s predecessors saw a swamp, Louie saw potential. Where Louie’s predecessors saw unemployed, willing but untrained people, Louie saw a ready-to-go labour force.

Remember, nothing comes easy.

In our own region, people for years looked at the forests and said, “Poplar is a garbage tree. Nothing can be done with it.”

Years ago, the late High Prairie mayor Fred Dumont and his High Prairie council bundled up trees and sent them to Europe. There, they were processed into what was called “some of the finest paper ever made.”

That little project resulted in Alberta Newsprint being built in Whitecourt. Later came Ranger Pulp in Slave Lake. And still later, another High Prairie mayor, Diana Oliver was successful in getting Tolko OSB to locate in High Prairie.

Once upon a time, Lesser Slave Lake was called “the killer lake.” If you wanted a “cabin” around the High Prairie area, you went to Winagami Lake. For almost 50 years, one could buy a lakefront lot at Joussard, Faust or Canyon Creek for $500. Now, those same lots are selling for two, three and four hundred thousand.

The simple fact is, all of northern Alberta is blessed with opportunity. Each area, including our part of the land, has its own strengths in resources and people. One just has to open their eyes and minds to see them and all the opportunities there.

Sometimes, with the right attitude and the right people, one day the rest wake up to yes, those “overnight successes.”

Jeff Burgar

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