Rick Holmes, Chief of the Upper Similkameen Indian Band, doesn’t attempt to impress people with the position. In preparation for an on-stage interview at the Hedley Canada Day celebration, I asked how I should introduce him. “You can introduce me as Chief,” he said, “then call me Rick. It’s only a title.”
In a subsequent conversation with him in our home, Linda and I sensed his thinking extends comfortably well beyond Reserve boundaries. There is an evident openness to interactions with the Similkameen community and the world beyond.
He attributes much of his shaping to being placed in a foster home in Alberta at the beginning of grade 4. “I think my mom agreed to it because she thought I’d have a chance at a better education,” he told us. “I see it as a positive. During that time I lived in the homes of 2 different families. I still stay in touch. This June I went to Alberta to visit them.”
He says observing his foster parents shaped his values. “When I ran for Chief last year,” he said, “I told the band I bring fairness and honesty.”
Rick first sought the position of Chief in 1990, but lost to Slim Allison. Elections take place on a 2 year cycle and in 1992 he won. He says Slim Allison gave him a piece of wise advice. “Some people will holler and scream at you, but don’t do the same.”
The band, which now has about 210 members, doesn’t provide a salary, he said, but he does receive an honorarium. He works at the Copper Mountain Mine, operating a crusher. Three of his five children also work there. “My daughter Rosie drives a haul truck,” he said. “The tires are huge. They cost about $30,000 each.” He is obviously pleased that his children are gainfully employed.
“Jobs and band prosperity are high on my list of priorities. It’s a big thing for me that our people should not have to depend on the band for a job. Quite a few band members work at the mine.” Doing a quick mental count he said there are 14 to 18 including spouses. “We have several small contracts with the mine. I’d like to see this increased, but we don’t use the band to bully anyone to get work. We listen and try to get a foot in the door.”
“We have a logging operation in the Princeton area,” he said. “It has a crew of 7 men. In the past it was one of the biggest in the southern interior. We have our own equipment, a feller/buncher, 2 skidders, a cat and loader and processors.”
Wanting to clear up a common misconception, he said “we get the same deductions from our cheques as others. We pay income tax. Also, our homes are not given to us. We have to buy them.”
He told us the band office receives daily inquiries concerning the popular mine tours. “There is work needing to be done up there. We’re still looking at the idea of a gondola, but that’s for the future.” The band is also considering re-starting the Princeton Pow Wow. When I asked if band members attend the Ashnola Pow Wow, he said, “I believe they all do.”
Rick understands that as a leader he needs to give attention to his health. He walks along the highway morning and evening (“when I can”), a total of almost 8 miles. He also plays slow pitch ball. “We have a family team. I used to play short stop but now one of my sons is better, so I’ve moved to third base. I’m still a pretty decent ball player.” He has three sons. Two are mirror image identical twins and both are power hitters.
When he’s invited to functions outside the band, he attends if his schedule permits. When possible, he attends district School Board meetings. Teachers at times ask him to come and read to students. He enjoys doing this.
Rick understands the importance of a relationship with the larger Similkameen community. “We can work together on some issues and help each other.” He cited the example of Hedley’s Fire Department fighting the grass fire on reserve land recently. “We very much appreciate the efforts of the fire fighters, band members and everyone who came to help.”
It seems there are possibilities for increased cooperation and positive interactions between the band and its neighbours.