With swagger and a shoot-from-the-lip sense of humour, Chief Clarence Louie won over a crowd of corporate leaders yesterday with his simple prescription for the problems facing Canada's aboriginals - jobs.
Creating jobs and spurring economic development are the best ways to reduce the high suicide rate among aboriginal people, he said.
And those jobs should be created by native people starting their own businesses and taking responsibility for their own communities.
"The best social program is a job," Mr. Louie told the Edmonton Economic Development Corp.'s annual meeting.
"And to the first nations people here - not just band office jobs. The biggest employer should not be the band office. It should be the economic development side of your first nation.
"Today being a warrior means being self-supporting. Not living on welfare. Not continuously just hammering away at federal and provincial governments, but becoming employed."
Health experts estimate that the aboriginal suicide rate is about seven times higher than the national average.
Mr. Louie, chief of the Osoyoos band in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, walks his tough talk.
The Osoyoos band has developed and owns a golf course, a hotel, the Nk'Mip winery and other businesses. Unemployment on the reserve is a distant memory and the band employs many non-natives.
The federal government is so enthralled with Mr. Louie that it appointed him chairman of the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board.
The chief also had a blunt challenge for Alberta's corporate bigwigs.
He called on companies to do business with natives' companies and to hire aboriginal relations officers to ensure cultural differences don't get in the way of everyone making a buck.
With the aboriginal population rising, he also said it makes little sense to use immigration to deal with labour shortages when unemployment on many reserves is so high.
Unless aboriginals share in Western Canada's growing prosperity, major cities run the risk of developing ghettos of poor native people, Mr. Louie warned.
"The leaders in this room are the ones who are going to ensure that there isn't an aboriginal poverty section in the city of Edmonton."