New chief takes on duties

The new chief of the Okanagan Indian Band believes members are demanding change.

Byron Louis topped the polls Saturday with 304 votes, while there were 132 votes for Reynolds Bonneau, 129 for incumbent Fabian Alexis and 17 for John Louie.

“People want change and they want something to happen,” said Louis.

“Look at our demographics and the biggest group is under age 34. They struggle from one job to the next and they are looking for security for themselves and their families.”

Louis says economic development will allow families to support themselves and for the band to provide programs.

“Currently, we are land rich and cash poor. We need to build our economy and diversify,” he said.

Louis would like to see a shift away from forestry, but he would not speculate on what development could occur on reserve lands along Westside Road, in Vernon and in Lake Country.

“It must be decided by our people exactly what they want,” he said.

Previously there has been some conflict between the band and the City of Vernon over Kin Beach and proposed upgrades to the adjacent road, but Louis remains positive.

“No relationship is perfect but if there is a commitment to continue, the relationship will continue,” he said.

Another priority for Louis is preserving the water supply.

“We live in a semi-desert and we should consider what land values will be without water,” he said, adding that logging practices must be reviewed further.

“That’s one of the biggest impacts on our water.”

As for titles and rights, Louis insists that his position follows that established by the Okanagan Nation over the decades.

“We have never surrendered and signed over our lands,” he said.

“We have to determine how we will live together.”

Louis has previously served six terms as a band councillor, and he also spent time in Ottawa as a senior researcher for the Assembly of First Nations and as a co-ordinator for the Aboriginal Council on Species at Risk.

Elected to the 10 councillor positions are Homer Alexis, Coo-la Cachoot Louis, Allan Louis, William Wilson, Diane Louis, Bill Cohen, Raymond Marchand, Lyle  Brewer, Mollie Bono and Leland Wilson.