Smally Petawabano was a man who will always be a part of the people who knew him. His way of being was the Cree way of life. He lived a good life and his loss will be felt. Smally passed away on December 3 and his absence will be felt. What he taught all who knew him will live on for generations.

Smally was one of the original signatories of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Though many remember him for that he was so much more. He was one of the first young chiefs amoung the Cree. Born in 1936 he became a chief at the age of 25 in 1961. He would serve the Cree of Mistissini for three consecutive terms. This in a time when chiefs, unlike today, did not receive a salary. He chose to serve his people and it showed. As Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come said, “You served because you believed in your community and they believed in you.”

Coon Come said he looked at Smally as a friend and mentor. “I saw him as a bridge, not only between the youth and the Elders, but between the youth and the trappers.” Smally was respected and listened to by everyone. His father, Jean-Baptiste, taught him how to live and survive by becoming part of Eeyou Istchee. In keeping with this tradition Smally has passed on those skills to his children and others. Because of his experiences in the bush and in the community, Smally said when the youth were in the community they didn’t listen as much because of all the diversions. He said the bush was more relaxed and there was always time to talk about anything.

Smally brought what he was taught and lived to his time as a chief. “He had a passion and vision for both his community and the Cree Nation that he shared with us. He was devoted to our community and it was evident in the way he served the people,” said Coon Come.

Smally went on to be a band councilor after his time as a chief. Later, he returned to his roots and returned to the land. He hunted and trapped on his family’s traditional territory. He often said he enjoyed being his own boss and getting to eat more of the food he had growing up. He admitted times were hard when he was young. It was a time when many families had difficulties getting enough food.

Even so Smally proved he was Dab Eeyou at an early age. According to an interview he did with the CTA, Smally said he snared his first rabbit at age 5 and killed his first moose at 11. Even for a Cree he was a prodigy.

When he returned to the land in later years Smally told everyone that his wife was a dedicated partner in that life. He said, Laurie was a hunter in her own right as she had killed moose, caribou and bear.

Those who knew Smally knew he was also a humorous man. He was always ready to smile and share. Smally would joke or tell stories that made us all smile.

One story he would admit to but never told himself unless asked was about the two Indian Affairs agents who came in winter to Mistissini. The band office at that time was small and only had a couple of desks. One of the agents tried to tell Smally what he was going to do and he had no choice. Smally showed him the results of his choice when he grabbed him and threw him out of the band office. Smally then locked the door and went back to calmly talk to the other Indian Affairs agent.

Smally was a defender and servant of the people. He may have made no money for his service to the community he loved, but he had honesty, honour, respect, friendship and trust from all parts of the community.

Smally showed us what a man could be while being true to himself and the Cree way of life was all about.

It is not only his 11 children, 39 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren who shall miss his presence. The Cree Nation will have to go on without his wisdom and laughter.