Paul Gull was sleeping when the returning officer for the Grand Council elections, John Henry Wapachee, telephoned him at home late in the evening Aug. 29. “My son woke me up, saying the returning officer called,” Gull recounted. “I didn’t know what to think. He gave me Losty’s numbers first. And I thought, ‘What’s he doing this for?’ I was still half asleep. Then he said, ‘Well, the reason I called was to tell you that you won.’ After that I was a little overwhelmed.” The former chief of Waswanipi will take over the job of Deputy Grand Chief from Matthew Mukash. He took 1,500 of the 4,229 votes cast, or 35.5 per cent, in a five-way race. Losty Mamianskum came in second with 1,168 votes.
Gull says he was fairly confident of winning the job, citing his experience of working with the Cree School Board, the Cree Regional Authority, the Grand Council, and as chief of his community. “Based on my experience I figured it was possible to win,” he told The Nation. “But I wouldn’t say I didn’t have any doubts.” Gull had considered running for reelection as Chief of Waswanipi, while still taking at shot at the Grand Council position, for which the candidate filing deadline was later. After talking it over with his wife, they decided it wouldn’t look good to be running for two positions at once. “But if I didn’t win as Deputy Grand Chief I wouldn’t have a job right now,” Gull remarked.
He is currently getting oriented to the position. “Generally, my priorities are in the communities,” he stated. “Getting funding for projects. Jobs for young people.” Also at the top of his list is the forestry issue, which he handled for the Grand Council while Chief of Waswanipi. As chief of a community that has been devastated by clearcuts, he headed up a challenge that included a $500 million lawsuit against the governments of Quebec and Canada. The suit against Quebec has since been dropped with the Agreement on a new relationship with the province.
The issue still concerns him, and played a role in his decision to run for the Grand Council. “It seemed like I was being slowly eliminated from the file,” he noted. “I didn’t like that. So I would like to do a little more on forestry in terms of meeting the needs of the trappers. I think that is the cry at the community level; that there was not enough for the trappers in the forestry section of the AIR There are still some issues outstanding that have to be dealt with. I would push for those.” He says the forestry issue is a priority for all communities: “To have something for the trappers, whether it’s remedial works, harmonization, or whatever you want to call it. We have to understand the needs of the trappers. I think the Chief of Waswanipi, Mr. Robert Kitchen, knows exactly what I’m talking about.” Personally, he was unhappy with the way the forestry file was handled in the Agreement with Quebec. “But overall, generally, for the long term we had to make decisions,” he said. “And the decision was to aim for the long term. It wasn’t easy, but a decision had to made at the time. And as with any agreement, we can still improve them as time goes by.” While a peace of the brave now governs the relationship with the province, there’s still a war in the woods with the forestry multinationals that are leaving Mohawk haircuts throughout Cree forest lands. “The forestry companies did not want to withdraw from the court case,” Gull observed. “Right now I hear there is a table of negotiation that all the lawyers have agreed to. But we still don’t have a general statement saying that they’re ready to talk. [An agreement with the forest companies] could be a long way off. It all depends on a decision on the other side. Getting a negotiation could be very quick or it could be very slow and painful.” In Waswanipi, the most southern of the Cree communities, the issue is especially acute. “If you look at the satellite photos, they’re cutting right around the cast of Nabakatuk [Waswanipi’s sawmill company], the wood rights that Nabakatuk has. We’re supposed to get more wood, but we’re not certain where the wood is going to come from. That’s still an outstanding issue that the Quebec government has to deal with. They promised that by July 11 they would come up with where the wood is supposed to come from. They haven’t done that yet.” As for Waswanipi’s trappers, Gull says they are fighting to survive. He notes the Agreement with Quebec forbids companies from cutting more than 40 per cent of any one trapline. “But at the moment in some cases they have exceeded that amount,” he said.
As for the unsettled issue of the election for Grand Chief, Gull is understandably reticent to comment on the results that are being challenged; after an official recount, incumbent Grand Chief Ted Moses holds a 32-vote lead over former Deputy Grand Chief Matthew Mukash. “I’d like to see it settled before I make any statement,” Gull said, adding, “I would have no problem working with either man.”