Six months after being elected chief of Chisasibi, Charles Bobbish says the job is harder than he ever imagined.
Bobbish is struggling to find ways to cope with alcohol abuse in the community and is pushing for more action by police and the band.
At the same time, he has walked into criticism that he is focused too much on solutions involving the police and neglecting other issues in the community. Meanwhile, he has sparked anxieties among the band’s own employees for a management style that has been called aloof and arrogant.
“It’s not an easy job being a chief,” Bobbish confessed in an interview with The Nation. “You can’t please everybody and sometimes you have to say no to some people. You can’t be a miracle worker.”
Right after the election, Bobbish said housing would be his main priority. But now alcohol has moved to the top of the list. “Right now, my biggest concern is about the alcohol coming into our community.”
Bobbish said the police aren’t doing enough to stop alcohol abuse. “We have to look at the powers we give to our police. They have to take into consideration the needs of the community,” he said.
“In our culture, when someone calls you to assist them you go without hesitation. But it’s not the case here. We have a hard time telling the police to do something because they say the law tells us we can’t do this.”
He complained that the police aren’t taking their orders from the community. “When I first became chief, the first thing I asked the police was: ‘Who is your boss?’… When they graduated, they were told, ‘Your boss is the law.'”
But not everyone in Chisasibi agrees with the chief’s law-and-order style. In a local newsletter, one youth said healing people with alcohol problems should be the main priority, not getting tougher with them.
“I think that getting more police hired and giving the people working at the gate the authorization to search everyone’s vehicles thoroughly will not solve our problem with alcohol.”
The youth said the gate has even caused drinking-and-driving accidents because it encourages people to drink their alcohol on the road before they get to the community.
Other residents say Bobbish hasn’t really done much on the alcohol issue other than talk. A community meeting on the issue in January yielded many suggestions for action, but they aren’t being acted on, one band member said.
Questions are also being raised about a new by-law to get tough on alcohol that was reportedly drafted at Bobbish’s request. Apparently, it would require anyone who isn’t a band member or living in town to get authorization from the band before entering the community. The by-law hasn’t yet been approved by the council.
Concerns about Bobbish’s management style were raised at a band staff meeting last month, which employees asked band councillor Bobby Neacappo and Chisasibi Elders to attend. Sources say the chief was told he was at times hard to talk to, difficult to work with and belittled subordinates.
Bobbish would not discuss the complaints. “I don’t want to talk about those things. It’s too depressing… You don’t want to hear about that. You’re not The National Enquirer.”