Book review: Grand chief tells his unapologetic life story

Ron Derrickson has enjoyed remarkable success as an entrepreneur, amassing an impressive personal fortune.

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Fight or Submit: Standing Tall in Two Worlds

Grand Chief Ronald M. Derrickson | ECW Press

$34.95, 268 pages

Ron Derrickson makes no apologies. The brash, highly successful businessman and controversial Indigenous leader makes that absolutely clear in his recently issued memoir, Fight or Submit. Derrickson, born in 1941 on the Westbank First Nation (WFN) outside Kelowna, served as chief of his Nation for a decade starting in 1976, and once again in 1998. He was named a grand chief of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs in 2012.

Derrickson has enjoyed remarkable success as an entrepreneur, amassing an impressive personal fortune. Derrickson also, according to his many fans, led the Westbank Nation from extreme poverty to its current status, frequently described as one of B.C.’s most prosperous First Nations. Westbank has issued over $500 million in business permits since 2009. Currently, according to the WFN website, there are 485 businesses operating on their reserve land, with 1.6 million square feet of retail space.


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Derrickson has also been an important figure in Indigenous rights issues. During his last term as chief, the WFN led a movement among Indigenous people to exercise sovereignty by logging with Indigenous-issued permits. Derrickson’s role in that historic conflict led the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to name him as a grand chief.

Derrickson also has contributed to the literature of liberation. With his friend the late Arthur Manuel, Derrickson authored two fierce, important books about Indigenous rights, Unsettling Canada and Reconciliation Manifesto.

Derrickson isn’t universally popular. He is frank about the complex rivalries within his Nation, many of them featuring harsh criticism from Indigenous opponents. While it’s clear that these attacks wound him, the chief is a tough guy and has seldom been diverted from his path by criticism, not even when it came in the form of a hired assassin making an attempt on his life.

The attack occurred in August 1982, when a man knocked on Derrickson’s door with an improvised sword in his hand. The assassin, who Derrickson believes had been hired by white businessmen out to eliminate an “inconvenient Indian,” and restore the bargain rates they had previously enjoyed in accessing and using the WFN’s land and resources, struck Derrickson several times. Derrickson was able to fight off his attacker, get a gun from inside his home and shoot the assassin. Told you he was tough.

When future historians write about Indigenous history, this book will be a valuable resource.

Highly recommended.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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