Less than a year after being named the first-ever Chief of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force, Reggie Bobbish was given another honour for his work: Police Officer of the Year.

Bobbish received the award in December 2011 at the Dialogue for Life Conference, where he was one of a handful of Cree to be recognized for work within their respective communities. Votes were given to all First Nations officers across Quebec and Labrador, and they selected the 40-year veteran of Cree policing for the honour. Bobbish said the award came as a happy surprise.

“I was very pleased about it and I didn’t expect anything like this,” he said with a chuckle. “Mind you, I’m a person who doesn’t expect recognition like that. It all came at once. I got a phone call and was informed that I was expected to be in Montreal at the Sheraton Centre for this event and that I’d be recognized as police officer of the year.”

Though policeman of the year is not a new award, this is the first time it has been awarded since the Eeyou Eenou Police Force was founded last April. Bobbish said this fact, and that he was chosen by his peers, were especially sweet.

But the Chief of the EEPF is no stranger to receiving awards. He received a medal for distinguished service from the Quebec Public Security Ministry in 1998, when he was a 25-year veteran. Two years later, in 2000, he received an exemplary service medal from then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. Still, Bobbish is particularly proud of the most recent plaque he received.

“It says it’s in recognition of the 40 years of experience in providing security, which is recognized as an example to follow in terms of resilience and dedication,” he said, his initial chuckle having subsided into a grateful tone. “I’m very happy about all that.”

Bobbish started his career in 1972 with the James Bay Municipal Police Force, where he stayed for six years. He then moved into the Native Policing Program with the Sûreté du Québec, before returning to local police forces in 1983. His first position with the Chisasibi police department, where he would spend 18 years of his career, was a Chief Constable.

After positions in Hull, Great Whale River and Amos, Bobbish was named the inaugural chief of the Eeyou Eenou Police Force. Leading this force, the first Aboriginal regional police organization, has been his job since April 2011. He said the founding of this organization, and of the school programs it has supported, were the developments he was most proud to see in the tradition of Cree policing.

“I think we made a big step forward into the Cree self-governance,” he said, speaking from his home in Chisasibi. “We have now entered into agreements with the police offices that will allow our younger officers to be admitted to full-fledged status programs. All the senior officers who are out in the field are very proud of this accomplishment. Our officers now can become full members of other police forces within the province if they choose.”

The Police Officer of Year award was given at the Dialogue for Life Conference, which is organized by the First Nation and Inuit Suicide Prevention Association of Quebec and Labrador. The FNISPAQL is headed up by Doris Bobbish, the police chief’s sister-in-law. She said the award ceremony was an important moment for her organization and for the Bobbish family.

“[The FNISPAQL] wants to recognize the work done by our frontline workers, and the family was very proud and felt happy for him,” she said, adding she wished more of his relatives could have been there to see it. “He’s been in the force for a lifetime. I was very happy I was there to share that moment with him.

Bobbish said that while he appreciated the recognition, he has always been more concerned with the bigger picture.

“Throughout the years I was a proud representative of the Cree nation, and my will to succeed came with one goal in mind: to improve the well-being of my fellow citizens.”

When asked whether he had any plans to retire soon, after nearly four full decades in the police force, Bobbish laughed. The laugh was part-dismissal, part-recognition: though he is making no plans currently, he admitted there’ll be a time when hanging up his badge will be the best option for him and his family. But until then, he plans to keep being a role model for a quickly evolving Cree police tradition.

“As I told the students when we opened the new police program at College Ellis,” he said, the strength in his voice still palpable. “It was a profession that I have undertaken for going on 40 years and today I still enjoy every minute of it.”