Charles Bobbish is just settling into his new job as Chief of Chisasibi and already he’s swamped. “There are a lot of files I have to look at,” he said. “I’m not too sure where everything is right now.”
In an interview with The Nation, Bobbish admitted he didn’t expect to beat Violet Pachanos in the Aug. 30 Chisasibi elections. “Yeah, I was surprised. I know a lot of people were asking for change, but there were still a lot of people who wanted to keep her as Chief,” said Bobbish, who was the local Community Education Administrator before the election.
“I was surprised but also glad because I wanted to do something.”
Bobbish said attacking the housing crisis in Chisasibi is his main goal. “Our biggest concern is housing. We don’t seem to be able to secure enough funding to get housing built”
Alcohol abuse and other social problems are also big priorities. “A lot of young people are starting to drink. There are hardly any activities organized for them and hardly any jobs for young people,” he said.
Bobbish predicted that one of his biggest challenges will be getting everyone to work together for the betterment of the community. “If we’re going to have division and attacking each other, it makes it harder to get things done.”
He stressed the value of the spiritual guidance of the church. “I think a lot of people are lost and that’s why they’re not very motivated when it comes to doing things in the community.” As for Native spirituality, he said he has “reservations.”
“I don’t have an objection to people going back to the drum. If they can achieve something with that, I praise them. But as far as I am concerned, I have respect for my father who took me to a Christian church.”
Violet Pachanos said her time in office was fulfilling, but it also taught her some in the community still have backward views about women. “It seems many Cree men are still not able to accept the fact that the women can do just as good a job as men.”
A small group of men kept complaining about a woman being Chief “during most of my term,” she said, and her gender hurt her in the election.
Bobbish, asked about the allegations of sexism, was careful to avoid wading into the debate. “I don’t know. It’s hard to say. There are some people who are opposed to any leadership that is not functioning,” he said. “Maybe she (Pachanos) felt that way because of the way people talked to her. I guess she has a right to her opinion.”
Pachanos said the dispute between Native traditionalists and Christian believers was another contentious issue in the election. “I think some of those things are not quite settled in the community,” she said, adding that she faced opposition from “the ones who think they’re traditional.”
“I like to think I understand what being a traditional Indian is. I was born and raised in the bush. I guess they tend to think a woman doesn’t know how to keep those traditions,” she said.
Pachanos remains a Band Council member and advisor to the Chisasibi First Nation.