Ouje-Bougoumou has bucked political convention by electing a female chief and the voters who supported Louise Wapachee October 9 are hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened six years ago.
In 2001 Wapachee was also elected, but only lasted a month in the chief’s chair after an opposition group lobbied for and was granted a new election, although the legal grounds for the revote were not exactly clear.
Although the Cree-Naskapi Commission found no need for a new election, it did not seem to matter. In the subsequent election, Sam Bosum beat out Wapachee for chief.
This time around however, with Bosum choosing to run for councillor, Wapachee appears to be in the clear after edging out runner-up Reggie Neeposh 87-68 in the October 9 election.
“I feel pretty good, I’m excited,” she told the Nation. “It’s a new challenge for me.” When asked if OJ was at last ready for a female chief, Wapachee quickly replied, “I think so.”
Her four-year term could be full of changes as she plans to improve almost every aspect of OJ life.
“Unity and a common vision from the people are important,” she said. “There are so many social issues affecting our people. We have to heal and grow to move forward.”
One of the ways to do that is to give the people more of a say in their future. Wapachee plans on consulting community members in a series of workshop forums to get a better sense of where they want to go.
“I want to bring back the voice of the people and have them participate more,” she said. “We’re hoping to have community planning workshops so we can lay out our goals for the future on everything from development to programming. We used to come together and decide on a five- or ten-year plan. But that has stopped and I’d like to bring that back.”
Wapachee is also personally affected by the OJ contamination crisis that arose when heavy metals from the mines near the community started to seep into the waterways and contaminate the fish a few years ago.
Her father’s territory is in the Chibougamau Lake area where there were numerous mines and mining activity.
“My father can’t drink the water and he can’t fish,” she said. “My first mandate as chief is to meet with the lawyers and find out more of what is happening. There are court proceedings right now that have been suspended numerous times. We are waiting for money from the government to help us with this.”
Wapachee said continuing studies of the lakes and a change in ownership at one of the mining companies have all contributed to a rather slow process. In the meantime, people are getting cancer and dying.
Wapachee is hoping help from the Grand Council and clear direction from the people will put enough pressure on the government to settle this issue.
“I’m very vocal about it and I’ve participated in the public hearings. I feel we need more of them,” she said. “We need to hear more of what the tallymen and those that are impacted the most think.
“In our territory there are still a lot of people who hunt, fish and trap. It plays a big part in our lives.”