Paul Gull is back. After a period during which the former Waswanipi chief (1998-2002) and one-time Deputy Grand Chief (2002-2005) withdrew from active politics to care for his ailing wife and then to mourn her passing, Gull says he is ready to serve again. The political veteran left last summer’s election contest for Grand Chief when her health took a sudden turn for the worse.
Now he wants to get back to work, saying he is more focused than ever. “I feel I am not running against any of the candidates for Chief. Instead I am running on behalf of the people I want to serve in the manner they deserve,” Gull explained.
“Right now they don’t feel that their needs are being met. They don’t feel they are part of the decision making process on how the community should be run. I am proposing that we do this in a different fashion through consultation and dialogue with the community members,” he added.
Gull said his focus is on improving the socioeconomic prospects for Waswanipi. “I see there is a big gap between the social situation and the economic situation at home and this concern applies to jobs. One guy got up in our general assembly and said, ‘You guys had promised us some jobs, why am I still on welfare? Why can’t I have money like everybody else,'” he recounted.
More than endless talk, Gull wants action to address the social and the economic needs of his community. His long record of service, including work as a school commissioner, and terms as vice-chairman and chairman of the Cree School Board, has helped build his perspective.
“We will be much better off creating sustainable jobs for our community members. I would like to see the community funds create real jobs at home or community jobs for our own people. We need to get away from hiring people from the outside all the time,” said Gull. “I was watching people fix a roof in Waswanipi. There was one Cree guy and then four white guys. When I went to another Cree community it was all Cree guys on the job and this is the way it should be in Waswanipi. It’s about pride in making an honest living and being a part of making your community a better place.”
Gull added that Waswanipi’s youth need jobs in order to pay for their growth as adults and community members. “It’s not only about having a car or getting furniture but also about being able to carry out traditional activities like hunting, fishing and trapping,” he explained.
Gull is looking at revamping some business activities that have declined or disappeared over recent years in Waswanipi. “Right now we have the option to reopen the sawmill,” he said. “We have to consider things in terms of the costs for wood and who we would deal with. We got out of working with Domtar, which was a serious situation within the community. Now we have a chance to refocus our partnerships and change the way it operated. We will need some training funds to get this project off the ground but I am sure that could be settled in no time through successful organizations such as the CHRD.”
Gull has ideas for the sawmill, for instance. He wants to create sustainable jobs at the mill by producing value-added goods. “We can do it ourselves, but it will take a little bit of training,” he explained. “Value-added products could be door frames, windows, even basic small things that would fit into a corner of a house, or decorations for houses, something along those lines.”
Gull concedes that such a project would require a lot of research to ensure it is successful. But he has more ideas.
“There is also the potential for energy within the sawmill where the sawmill could create its own energy to operate. Right now we are spending a lot of money on electricity. If we can find a new way to do this it will save us a lot of time and money,” said Gull.
“We would have to rebuild, renovate or connect machinery that will lead to cogeneration. The energy created would be done though the waste products from the mill. At the same time excess energy could go to powering green houses we would build so that we can grow our own vegetables. Those greenhouses would be within the sawmill project,” said Gull.
He says there is a group within Waswanipi that is gardening now to feed people in need. A greenhouse could substantially increase the amount of healthy food available for the community.
He credits some of his proposals to a Waswanipi think tank. “They are things that the Waswanipi people have to come up with. This is what I mean by consultation and dialogue. Most of our decisions will come from the people themselves under my administration if I am elected.”
He is adamant in his belief that the people of Waswanipi are capable of turning these ideas into reality. They only need support and the tools to get to work. “I would not want to intervene and choose the future of Waswanipi on my own as I would like to walk the talk and walk the line with them,” said Gull. “I don’t want to make promises and not be able to meet them. We can have planning sessions, put together a five year plan that will come from the people themselves and that is what I would like to see.”
Gull said he would provide detailed, regular progress reports on new projects like these. People would have access to information.
Gull said he has achieved these types of goals in the past. “The last time I was chief my goal then was to make the band office 100 per cent Cree and I fulfilled that promise,” said Gull.
He would also promote a participatory band council government. “We meet four times a year at a general assembly in Waswanipi. At every general assembly the people are almost prevented from talking about certain issues as the band determines the agenda. I would leave a day open where the people of Waswanipi could have an open discussion on whatever they want to talk about for Waswanipi. It is all about the people, how we are going to do things, improve things and make a better Waswanipi.”
At the moment Gull is hearing many community members are unhappy because they believe there are too many non-Natives working in Waswanipi, “and not enough faith in our own people to be hired in regular construction work.”
In conclusion, Gull says he wants to be very clear about his motivations. “All in all I am going to running on a traditional platform. I am not going to be a big money campaign because I don’t have any money. I will be trying to concentrate on the people and what they want from a leader and a community. I know that somewhere down the road they will try to find a way to help me if I can help them. But I have to stress that I never will promise anyone a rose garden. It’s hard work to create a great community that everyone wants to live in.”