In the late 1950s, a teenaged Sam Bosum began helping his father and brother in the bush as they and many other Crees from Oujé-Bougamau, Mistissini and Waswanipi began working in the mining industry. It was there that he first learned the tricks of the trade that would lead him down the road of a lengthy and fulfilling career. It was for this that Bosum, now 73, was honoured with the Skookum Jim Award for his lifetime achievement at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) annual convention in Toronto on March 2.
“I have spent most of my life in this business, since I learned how to work,” Bosum laughed. “In the beginning, Chibougamau was a mining camp that became a mining town. Back in 1960, there was a lot of work in exploration and for our people. There was a lot of bush work like line cutting, geophysics and staking and we got a lot of that work,” said Bosum.
Following his kin, Bosum said he learned how to operate the geophysical equipment used for line cutting at a young age and then proceeded to work in explorations for the Campbell mine for almost 10 years. After that, Bosum began work as an actual miner.
“I worked as a miner for eight years in Chapais and four years in Chibougamau, starting at the lowest level. You climb up from there, right to the top. But I got a little tired after 12 years and I kept thinking about the bush life that I used to love working in so I decided to go back to that work,” said Bosum.
In 1984, Bosum founded his first company, Native Exploration Services, which he has run for the last 31 years. Bosum’s company takes on all kinds of contracts in Quebec, Ontario and Newfoundland, including line cutting, staking, mineral exploration, geological and geophysical surveys, and using explosives.
“Mining exploration works like the stock market, it goes up and down. Sometimes there is not that much work and other times there’s a lot. In the last two years there have been very few jobs, but it will go back up again,” Bosum observed.
Looking back at his career, which also includes stints as chief, deputy chief and a band councillor of Oujé-Bougoumou, Bosum said his success in the mining industry is due in part to having a great team of individuals whose quality work kept the jobs coming in.
“To be a Cree in that business for so many years, I guess I have done a very good job for the many companies that I worked for and that’s what this award is for,” said Bosum.
Bosum said he had a lot of help from his community in the past as well as the community’s leadership, which helped him get obtain a number of contracts.
But what he enjoys most about working in the mining industry is working in the field or the bush.
“Being a Cree, I was born and raised in the bush by my grandparents. Then, when I got a bit older I stayed with my parents. I learned a lot at a young age because I had a lot of love from my grandparents. They used to take me in the canoe and go all over the place, setting up things,” said Bosum.
“That is why I left the mines to work in the bush again because this work is always in the bush where you get to stay a couple of days or weeks or months.”
When Bosum accepted his award at the PDAC event, many of his peers in the mining industry were attending as were a large number of Crees from the Cree Mineral Exploration Board and the Cree Regional Authority, including Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come.
Given only two minutes for his acceptance speech, Bosum said he later told his wife that he had never been given a time limit to speak before, especially when he was Chief. He said he probably spoke for at least three minutes, but nobody stopped him.
“I thanked the companies that gave us the work in the past and the many good workers I had. I also thanked the people who were there, my family and friends.
“In my speech I said this kind of work takes you away from home a lot. Sometimes we would have to go to northern Ontario and we would have to travel three days just to get there and then be there for a week, a month or even two months. I mentioned that because I wanted to give my wife special thanks for looking after our family while I was away,” said Bosum.
Looking back at his life and success in the industry, Bosum said he never went very far in school so he took the work he was able to get. He wanted to tell the youth that mining jobs are the kinds of jobs that they can get and, if they finish their education, they can get better jobs in the field. Had the kinds of training programs for Crees existed when he was young, he said he probably would have become a heavy machinery operator.
“I wanted to tell the youth, their parents and grandparents, because I see some young people go to school for training and then they fail or quit because of some difficulties or something else. I wanted to tell that if I knew in the past, in the early days, that if I had someone behind me like my grandparents or parents, sisters and brothers and many friends, that if you stand with your sons or daughters when they go to school for an education or training, that they know that you are behind him, they will not quit,” said Bosum.
“They need that push and that love.”