Chief Masty has been the Cree Chief Whapmagoostui for a year and 8 months. He has served as a board member for the Board of Compensation and the Grand Council/CRA.
How do you find it being the chief of the northern-most Cree community?
I feel honoured to have been given that responsibility of trust and hope of my people. I’ve worked with the band council since 1968, so I wasn’t new to the delivery of services and programs at the local level. I’ve worked with the past band councils as an administrator and an adviser. I felt it was time to run for the office of chief. I had been asked every election to do so since the 60’s. I felt it was the right time to make a contribution to the community as a chief.
Given the fact that you are so far north and isolated with no road into the community, it must make it difficult providing some of those services and programs?
It is. Our community is unique in that it is isolated that way and it is expensive to get supplies this far north. We can only bring in the materials by air or by boat.
Housing, for example, has to be planned around the marine transportation.
I’ve noticed that around the community you have a lot of facilities like a gym, arena, library and such. There seems to be a lot for people to do.
Yes there is and its part of another unique feature, in that the Inuit have always been our neighbors and they have some facilities and so do we. People take advantage of the ones they want to.
What’s it like to live here?
Personally, I like living here. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I went to school in the south for several years, but I was always homesick for here. I like the isolation. You are free to go where you want to go to carry out traditional activities. There is no rush. You can walk anywhere, to the store or just to walk.
There are opportunities to do many things here. It’s like there are three communities; the Cree, the Inuit and the non-Native community. We work together and are good neighbors. I love staying here.
Building an economy here must be difficult?
I know there are some projects in planning stages as far as tourism is concerned. We’re a little slow in taking advantage of these things at the moment. There are people who have traplines that have indicated a desire to be a part of a tourism industry doing things like fishing camps. We’ll be moving in that direction.
I noticed you still have ice out on the bay. When does that disappear?
Usually about the first week of July. It will probably go earlier this year because it was such a warm spring. I remember traveling on the ice at the end of May to come back from goose camp, but this year has been different.
We had very little snow in the area. That went fast and so did the ice.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
One of the things about Whapmagoostui is because of the fact that we are isolated our language is very strong.
Other people from other communities have commented on how even the young children are very fluent in Cree. We learnt from the impacts that have happened to other communities, like hydroelectric development, forestry and that.
We’ve had an opportunity to learn about the impacts of the southern societies. Even if there are no roads, people like to get away from the community as much as they can. In the summer there’s the four wheelers and a lot of trails. People are trying to go as far as they can to get closer to the land. People are building camps around the community to do this. In our community the language and the culture are very strong.