As Washaw Sibi’s newly elected Chief, Pauline Hester knows the struggles of her own people intimately, which is why she feels she is the perfect person to take the reins at this point in time.
Much like the rest of the Washaw Sibi people, Pauline Hester says that she is from all over. Her parents and grandparents lived on their trap line near La Sarre before being relocated to a French-speaking Algonquin community on the Pikogan Reserve by Indian Affairs.
Hester also spent her time in residential school and then moved on to the Gatineau-Hull area for high school.
The newly elected Chief for Washaw Sibi, who beat out incumbent Billy Katapatuk Sr. and Ronnie Trapper with 101 votes on July 26, said that leading her people is a dream she has had for a long time. From the way she tells it, looking back over the last 30 years, the 48-year-old explained that each portion of her life led up to this moment.
In 1980, Hester moved to Waskaganish, where she married her husband Tom the following year. She received her introduction to politics working at the band office as an accounting clerk, a front-row seat to the operations of leadership.
Eleven years later, Hester moved on to the school board where she worked under Gertie Murdoch, someone she says was also very influential in her life.
It was during that time that one day she went to church and then felt a sudden desire to get out and walk around by the coast of the Rupert River, from there she said that she began to her this message to go back to her people.
“I went behind the Anglican Church in the cemetery and while looking at a grave I had a vision of the L’Escale Motel in Val d’Or. Behind that is a graveyard and all of my people are buried there along with most of the other people of Washaw Sibi. Seeing this, I heard a voice say, ‘These are your people.’ The voice went on to say, ‘You came here for a purpose, to learn from these people, now, take what you have learned back to your people,’” said Hester.
She moved back to the Amos area in 1999 and began to work for the people of Washaw Sibi. For two years Hester said that she served as the Director of the Washaw Sibi Nation. Wanting to learn how she could contribute more, Hester then made the decision to return to school, first at Lakehead University and then transferring to the University of Abitibi-Temisquamingue.
Graduating from the university with a BA in Administration, Hester then refined her leadership skills by working for the Cree School Board in Montreal as the Director of Post-Secondary Education.
It was not however until the recent death of Elder Dorothy Polson that Hester knew that it was time for change again.
“You know the expression, when an Elder passes away, part of our culture dies. This affected me so much because I know how active these Elders have been in our movement and what we have been trying to get and Polson had been very active in this. She had always been encouraging with me, telling me that one day I would be our leader and run this place,” said Hester.
And so when the opportunity came to run for Chief, she ran and won.
In the last few years the community has been working diligently at the process of establishing a new village, selecting an ideal portion of land and working these matters out with the Grand Council of the Cree.
Hester said it’s now her job to continue this work while remaining connected to the people in Washaw Sibi, who are still displaced throughout the Abitibi-Temisquamingue region and the Cree communities.
“I grew up with these people and so I know where they are coming from. I understand where they have been and where they want to go and so being connected with them is important,” said Hester.