stats Making the Business of Life Easier

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Canada's Apartheid, by John Stackhouse
  Nov. 3

Welcome to Harlem on the Prairies
  Nov. 3 (Saskatoon, SK)

Crystal's choice: The best of both worlds
  Nov. 5 (Mississauga, ON)

How the Mi'kmaq profit from fear
  Nov. 6 (Cape Breton, NS)

The healing power of hockey
  Nov. 7 (The Pas, MB)

Norma Rae of the Okanagan
  Nov. 8 (Westbank, BC)

Comic genius or 'niggers in red face'?
  Nov. 9 (Regina, SK)

Praying for a miracle
  Nov. 10 (Lac Ste. Anne, AB)

To have and to have not
  Nov. 12 (Moosonee, ON)

Trouble in paradise
  Nov. 19 (Tofino, BC)

A cut of the action
  Nov. 26 (Wabigoon, ON)

The young and the restless
  Dec. 3 (Ashern, MB)

The wireless warrior's digital dream
  Dec. 10 (Ottawa,ON)

'Everyone thought we were stupid'
  Dec. 14 (Salluit, QC)

First step: End the segregation
  Dec. 15 (Last in the series)


Norma Rae of the Okanagan

Story by John Stackhouse. Photos by John Lehmann.
The Globe and Mail, November 8, 2001

Part 2 of 8: Westbank's emerging class system

West Bank locator Westbank's emerging class system rises like a new subdivision on the sloping western shore of Lake Okanagan. Located across the water from Kelowna, at the 145-kilometre-long lake's narrow midpoint, the reserve is crowded with trailer parks, strip malls, a winery and golf courses. All were built on land the Crown leased to the local natives, who in turn developed it and leased it to a fast-growing population of newcomers -- mostly white retirees who now outnumber the native population 8,000 to 580.

The rapid development has transformed Westbank from a secluded reserve to an affluent suburb and given it a certain financial independence (as well as water and sewer lines to all residences on the reserve). It also helped Ron Derrickson to make his fortune.

Even on B.C.'s eccentric political landscape, Derrickson deserves a special place. He has held the chief's office, on and off, for 25 years and in that time has become fabulously wealthy by his people's standard.

He says he controls about 80 hectares of reserve property and leases most of it to trailer parks and shopping centres. As well, he freelances as a negotiator for other native bands, charging $3,000 a day plus a 10-per-cent commission on whatever he can wring out of Victoria or Ottawa.

Life was not always so sweet. Derrickson started out as a welder, but then went into the real-estate business with his brother, Noll. Their timing was auspicious. The federal government had started to encourage natives to leverage their land for economic gain. Ottawa kept the reserve as Crown property, but issued so-called certificates of possession, similar to long-term leases, to those willing to put up some money and plan some form of development.

As the band assumed control of local planning, municipal services and bylaws, the chief became especially important to developers and landowners. First elected in 1976, Derrickson took the role of deal-maker to new heights. He invested band money in -- and then became a director of -- the Calgary-based Northland Bank. But it collapsed in 1985 and he stepped down as chief a year later.
THIS STORY AT A GLANCE (Parts 1 to 8 plus a related film review):

Photo Essay
Westbank and the union

1. Inviting big labour
'Every other Canadian citizen is guaranteed the right to belong to a union'

2. Westbank's emerging class system
Rapid development transforms the secluded reserve to an affluent suburb

3. 'It was a very turbulent time to be an employee'
The struggle for solidarity on the reserve

4. Playing tough
Put your money where your mouth is, chief tells union reps

5. Colonial parallels
'Just another form of non-native people trying to shape their destiny'

6. 'We are the cash cow'
Leaseholders lobby for a greater voice in reserve affairs
7. 'Sometimes they're a vehicle' for change
Union successes in one workplace

8. Election fever and the union
'All of the employees are afraid of losing their jobs at the next election'

Related story: Globe review of the 1979 film Norma Rae - A primer on the original Norma Rae. Contains relaed Web links.



photo essays
Two worlds - photo essay

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