James Bay Cree voters have chosen a new direction for their school board leadership. William Mianscum of Mistissini will be the chairperson of the Cree School Board (CSB) for the next three years after a run-off election with incumbent Mabel Herodier July 31.

Before the run-off election, neither of the two leading candidates had achieved the necessary minimum 50 per cent of the vote (Herodier had 29 per cent of the vote, Mianscum, 28 per cent.) So it came down to the run-off election, which produced a clear result, with Mianscum garnering 55.6 per cent of eligible votes.

For the time being, Mianscum will also retain the titles of Interim Deputy Director General of the CSB, as well as Director of Finance.

Mianscum was quick to credit Herodier, saying they shared many of the same goals. “Our platforms were somewhat similar,” Mianscum said. “The success rate or lack thereof of graduating students is a huge concern. Doubling the graduation rate by 2007 is something I will definitely be working towards.”

Mianscum also wants to develop the CSB’s teacher training program. “I think what we need to do is speed up the process, screen the candidates who are interested in taking teaching as a career, and gear them towards university to get their BAs through that process,” he explained. “That way we can get them into the classrooms faster.”

Another project Mianscum feels is vital is the Cree language program. The most notable part of which is the Cree-language CD, released in collaboration with the Cree Programs group of the CSB this past winter. Although he won’t be overseeing projects dealing with the language, he fully supports and understands the need to keep the language alive, and make sure it’s being passed down to the younger generations.

Mianscum said he is open to collaborating with Herodier on any issues that arise in the future. “We definitely need all those that have experience to come in and help out, including Mabel,” he said.

“When I agreed to run, I saw myself as being the person that can influence change. I hope to do that, whether it is in a big way or not remains to be seen. I am definitely able to have influence and an impact on the way change should be taking place, for the better.”

Mianscum says he knew the path he was going down would be an arduous one. “I knew I had a big task ahead of me because any time you’re in position to unchair the incumbent in an election it’s a lot of work,” he stated. “Especially a chairperson that was there and working towards making change.”

One of the main things he didn’t want was to turn the contest into a coastal vs. inland debate. “I wanted to make sure, and I think Mabel did as well, that people stayed focused on the issues.”

Despite this hope, the election turned into exactly that, a coastal vs. inland squabble. Herodier won all coastal ridings, and Mianscum won all inland ridings. The only exception was in Whapmagoostui, where each candidate garnered 23 votes.

Along the way there were a few unfortunate incidents that slowed the momentum of the election. There were a number of deaths in different communities, as well as a death in Mianscum’s family.

This could have been one of the reasons for the low turnout at the polls. Fewer than 30 per cent of the eligible voters cast their vote.

“I’d like to thank the people for giving me their confidence – 55 per cent the vote is a pretty strong mandate,” Mianscum concluded. “I thank the people for that and I certainly look forward to working with the communities.”