Okanagan Indian Band Chief Byron Louis has participated in two Idle No More initiatives to date but his band has been involved in similar battles for more than a decade.
"When it comes to the Okanagan Indian Band, we've been Idle No More since 1999," Louis said with a laugh during a recent interview.
"We were the ones that launched the Browns Creek (logging/watershed protest in 2009-10) and most recently, one of our actions led to an injunction by Tolko for logging in what we consider to be our watersheds."
In 1991, the band fought over the transfer of tree forest licence (TFL) 49, he said. "Most of our people have been involved in logging for four generations so we know what commercial logging is. At that time, we were saying that the watersheds can't sustain that high level of commercial activities and still maintain adequate stream flows."
The band had commercial banking officials come in and they estimated the reserve base had $1 billion worth of real estate.
"We're going to need those sources of water for our future. I ask everybody who lives in the Okanagan: what's the value of your property without water? If we don't have access to adequate water flows and resources like any other community in this province, we're basically going it alone. And that's how it's been," said Louis.
Community watersheds throughout the Okanagan provide a basic level of watershed and flow protection for the public water supply but there are no community watersheds behind reserve land, he noted.
"If you go right across the province, you will not find one stream that flows through a reserve that is adequately protected. If you were to go into a watershed that protects Vancouver city's water supply, you would be arrested. Why is everybody in the Okanagan Valley not afforded the same protection?" he asked.
"You look at the value of the investment and everything else that we have in our properties, and yet they can't provide protection for the most critical resource to that valley, which is water. That shows us that their interest - whether it's in Victoria or wherever it is - isn't really with us. It's with someone else."
One of the issues of Idle No More protesters is the sharing of resources with First Nations.
"You always hear criticisms about First Nations needing tax dollars, but one of the things that's always forgotten is at least half of those tax dollars are generated from natural resources and not coming from anybody's individual pockets," said Louis.
First Nations' people don't have access to those resources since most of the revenue is plowed into projects like infrastructure improvements, he said. "Something's got to change. I think that's the same thing our band is looking at."
Some compare the success of the Westbank First Nation (WFN) with the other 400 bands across Canada.
"Economic status is often based upon location, location, location," said Louis. "When you look at Westbank, they had a fairly large population and started out with a reasonably small land base of about 3,600 acres."
By comparison, his band's 2,000 members have a main reserve and four satellite reserves totalling about 25,000 acres with a high ratio of CPP or private land. The reserves include 37 kilometres of lakefront property which provide certain advantages although the location is more remote on the north end of Westside Road.
His members were traditionally employed in forestry and agriculture. It was only in the last 10-20 years that the band has faced hardship as a result of challenges in those industries, he said. The band has commercial leases in Lake Country which produce income from commercial industries like SRI Homes.
WFN has the advantage of close access to a large and growing urban centre, said Louis. "Basically, they're surrounded. That creates some fairly decent benefits. Just having access to land and access to opportunity isn't the only criteria (for economic success). You've got to have good management that goes with it and clearly, that's one of the things Westbank has done."
WFN Chief Robert Louie says a lot of his band's success is due to to self-government. "To an extent, that is true," said Louis, noting: "It took them a while to get to that point."
When aboriginal communities began discussing self-government in 1974-75, it was never clearly understood at that time what responsibilities bands were trying to assume, he said.
"Self-government is not a band office because a band office simply provides services on behalf of the federal government. We're taking a very measured approach to make sure that people are actually very comfortable with any type of decision we're going to make."
One of the key priorities in self-government is financial management, he said. His band has approved a finance bylaw with penalties for non-compliance "which is quite different from municipal government where you can't be held personally liable for not practising due diligence."
First Nations' politicians, on the other hand, can be held personally responsible for those decisions. "That is a huge difference in terms of liability. I think people want to see that financial management and see things done in a fiscally responsible manner."
Louis is serving his first term as chief but sat on council for six terms or 12 years. He was also involved in regional, national and international work on resources in Washington state and Idaho.