Earlier this summer Richard Shecapio was voted in as Mistissini’s new leader. A family man, Shecapio has been married to Jeanette for 12 years and has two daughters, aged five and nine.
Shecapio has a lengthy career working for the local and regional administration, having spent 10 years at the Mistissini Band Council office in various capacities, such as economic development, tourism and, for the last six years, as director of community development.
Shecapio worked in Cree human resources for the Cree Regional Authority and was a program officer for inland communities.
The Nation: How will your career history help you in your new position as Chief?
Richard Shecapio: For the past six years I have been working at the management level at the band office. I have been involved in nearly all aspects of community projects, economic development and the tourism sector. This has also been in line with providing services to the community.
At the management level I was able to work closely with the Chief and Council to provide services and then there were the management responsibilities that I held. My involvement with the community has been very active in terms of the development that has taken place over the last six years.
TN: Which Cree leaders have played a major role in your life and career?
RS: I was always amazed with our Grand Chief, Matthew Coon Come, just knowing that he came from this community. I know that at a very young age he became leader for seven or eight years here and then he went on to be Grand Chief and then National Grand Chief.
I also worked with Henry Mianscum while I was working for Cree Human Resource Development. Beyond that I have heard what he has done for the community during the time he was Chief. I have looked up to these former leaders for as much as they are still leaders in what they do.
TN: In your community, who are your greatest supporters?
RS: It is a mixture of people from different age groups. In this past election I got a lot of support from the youth, from the middle-aged group and from the Elders. I worked a lot with the Elders when I was the director of community development. I was responsible for overseeing a lot of the programs geared towards our trappers and our Elders in the local trappers program and the subsidy program that we have in place. So, it was a mixture of different age groups but I am sure that the majority of votes came from the younger population. There were also a substantial number of people in their mid-30s and 40s.
TN: What will you do the same as the previous administration and what will you do differently?
RS: One of the areas I want to focus on is economic development. Over the last 15 years, our community has developed very fast. A lot of it has to do with infrastructure and housing.
With this quick development, I feel there were times when we could have invested in our people in terms of local business but often it did not happen. We could have done more as a community in terms of providing the opportunities to our people and to our local businesses.
Many of the public organizations we have in the community are probably at their maximum level in terms of the employment that they can provide. There is probably still room when we look at the specialized or professional level positions, like doctors or nurses, but we don’t have that many Crees who possess these skills.
There are a lot of people with skills in the community and I hope they can use these skills to start small businesses and provide employment for others. This is something that I want to focus on because this is where the jobs will come from and it will create self-sufficiency as a community.
This is the way we need to go, we can’t continue to rely on outside expertise to come in and do jobs that our people are capable of doing.
I also want to focus on developing our youth. Our youth represents about 50% of our population. When I say developing them, I am talking about making sure that we provide them with adequate education.
In the past five years, our community has not had any high school graduates. The graduation rate has really dropped. 1994 was the first year that we produced graduates from our schools and I think that it’s been years since we’ve seen graduates in our community so there needs to be a focus on the youth and working with the education system in our community.
I am looking at training opportunities for the youth, such as vocational training. There are a lot of people in my own age group who dropped out of high school and I would also like to focus on them. These people have regrets about dropping out but there’s still hope for them to get their high-school diplomas. This would open the doors for them to go into whatever career that they want.
I want to focus on sustaining and maintaining our culture. We can’t forget where these Agreements came from such as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.
When you listen to the trappers and the Elders, I believe them when they say that it was because of the trappers back then who hunted and fished within the territory that this Agreement came about to protect them and recognize them back in 1975. We always have to remember our roots and we cannot push them aside. We need to continue to help them out so that they can continue to occupy the land and still hunt, fish and trap.
It is important for me to work together with all of the stakeholders within our community to make it better.
When we look back at John Longchap’s tenure as Chief, he was there for almost 10 years. When you look at community development, I appreciate the leadership he had during this rapid growth in terms of housing and infrastructure, the paving of the 167 North, the access roads and our community streets and the creation of our community centre. There is a lot to appreciate in terms of what he did for our community.
My plan is to try and maintain the pace of development that has happened here but at the same time, using these projects to invest in our people by providing them the opportunities in terms of training and employment.
None of our workers are certified by the Commission de la construction du Québec (CCQ) but we are now going to implement an apprenticeship program for our carpenters so that they can be certified.
I want to work on employment opportunities in construction for our people. With prefabricated houses much of the work is already done before the house arrives in the community. The work that’s left is very minimal in terms of employment opportunities.
TN: What did you see in the community that made you run for this position?
RS: My interest was always there to eventually run for leadership, Chief or Council. Even when I graduated from high school I thought that I wanted to be up there.
There were times in the past when I was approached to run for council, but I knew it wasn’t my time. It was a year ago that I started thinking about it seriously and I finally became comfortable with the idea of running.
Prior to the election I sensed the support I would get from the people as many approached me to run. It has turned out great for me.
TN: What were your major campaign promises?
RS: Throughout my campaign, one of the things I concentrated on was not to make any kind of material promises such as a youth centre or any other major buildings.
What I did promise was that this leadership would listen to the people and respect and honour their opinions. This leadership will be one of fairness that will provide equal opportunities to the people. We will work together to achieve our goals.
One of my areas of focus is to build healthier families. When we deal with social issues, it is important for us to look inside our homes and see how our families are affected socially. Drugs and alcohol are key in triggering social problems in the community. We need to address these problems and work together to resolve them.
We also need to develop and empower our youth and sustain and maintain our culture. There are more and more programs available for trappers as there are disputes between some of our trappers over the traplines. These are issues I want to work on to resolve.
Economic development is another area and so is local government. I believe in working with strategic plans. For the next four years I want to concentrate on working on strategic plans and looking at what we want to achieve as Chief and Council. There’s going to be a lot of planning taking place between now and early January.
TN: What do you think are the greatest strengths and weaknesses that you bring to Mistissini?
RS: One of my greatest strengths is that I am a humble person. I am able to listen to people and hear their suggestions and recommendations.
I have been heavily involved in economic development throughout the past 12 years and I want to focus on that. I also took a business program when I was down south, which will help me in this respect.
My weakness sometimes is patience. I need to learn to be more patient.
TN: Anything else?
RS: I was overwhelmed with the amount of support that I got throughout the election from the people and I am thankful to them for electing me and believing in me. I really want to thank them and I will try really hard to be a good leader for this community. I am looking forward to working with this administration and council.
I would also really like to thank my wife Jeanette; she is there every day supporting and believing in me.