The chief of the Okanagan Indian Band says he’s taking a wait and see approach to the new Liberal government after last week’s federal election saw the Stephen Harper-led Conservative party ousted from power.
OKIB chief Byron Louis says there was very little progress for First Nations people during the last 10 years under Harper’s regime and perhaps the only steps forward came in the number of indigenous people that actually got out to vote in the federal election.
Louis himself, cast a ballot in his home riding of North Okanagan-Shuswap for the first time ever.
“I’m 53 years old and this was my first time voting in my home riding and seeing some of our members in their 70s voting was quite surprising,” said Louis.
“I was quite surprised who I saw in the polling station (on the OKIB reserve). If you can credit Harper with anything it is getting us out to vote.”
OKIB lands are split between Kelowna-Lake Country, represented by Liberal Stephen Fuhr, and North Okanagan-Shuswap with Conservative Mel Arnold.
Louis says the band will request a meeting with the MPs to discuss issues around the OKIB and First Nations people and he hopes the issues his band and others have been fighting for will be more respected under the Liberal government.
Louis believes his members, like many First Nations across the country, were motivated to vote for a change in government.
“I think in talking to people it was definitely a time for change,” said Louis.
“There hasn’t been much progress in the last 10 years and we’re hoping there is going to be change with this government and they live up to the commitments they have made. Promises are one thing, actions are another. I think it’s incumbent for the Liberals to live up to the promises they have made. They have a majority and they can actually make those changes so we are going to have to see if they live up to them.”
Louis said the biggest issue for First Nations across the country is missing and murdered aboriginal women, something the Liberals have promised to look into with an official inquiry.
But the OKIB chief says it’s not the only issue facing First Nations.
“There are a lot of pressing issues,” he said.
“Most notably the missing and murdered aboriginal women. But there is also the need to look at regulatory reform especially how socio-economic development should be a priority focus instead of just administering programs. Our grand chief Stewart Phillip has called it administering our poverty and that has to change.”