Eeyou Istchee’s political women reflect on their experience

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Even as they are traditional wardens of the land and mothers to its children, women in Cree politics balance the responsibility of representing the people who have elected them into power.

Inspired by the recent election of Mandy Gull as Deputy Grand Chief, the Nation spoke to a few female Cree politicians about their experiences and challenges. They include Gull, Youth Grand Chief Kaitlynn Hester, Washaw Sibi Chief Pauline Trapper-Hester and Whapmagoostui Chief Louisa Wynne.

Mandy Gull

Elected Deputy Grand Chief in July in a close race with run-off challenger John Matoush, Gull joked that it is difficult for her to explain what it’s like to be a woman in Cree politics because she doesn’t know “what it is like to be a man in politics.”

“Seriously speaking, it depends on who you’re working with – some people are progressive to welcome a women and are ready to work together and some aren’t. As long as you do your job well and stand up to the challenges you face as a leader, regardless of sex, you will serve your people well. As a female leader you have to ensure you remain respectful to those who question your ability because of gender – it’s up to you to show them otherwise.”

When it comes to balancing politics and family life, Gull – the mother of four children who are in their late teens and early 20s – said that having a political career would be difficult if the kids were much younger. Instead, they are either finishing up high school or have moved out and in college.

“My home-work balance is in tune with their needs as adults. We focus on quality family time and spending time together and eating with one another. We communicate together daily via social media and the phone. My husband and I were young parents so we have a unique and close relationship with our kids,” said Gull.

In terms of being a female politician in a male-dominated field, Gull speaks of the importance of having both genders represented.

“As a female leader, women bring an alternative perspective to decision-making. They are a little more in tune with multiple facets of a decision and its impact on social aspects. A male and a female making decisions together in this leadership will be different and an exciting change,” said Gull.

Gull emphasized that the educational opportunities now available to Crees made her who she is today and she hopes that others can enjoy a similar experience.

“The access to a post-secondary program changed my life – without it I would not likely be where I am at. Education was stressed as a priority to me as a child and it really was something I valued in achieving – and this is something I stressed to my kids. I enjoy attending graduations and celebrating with the families. This is the message I share at those events,” said Gull.

Gull buttressed her qualifications by noting that her CV was put online as part of her election campaign. She pointed out however that the Cree Nation Government has no formal qualifications required for its leadership positions.

“This is a major issue because we are electing individuals who are required to disperse and manage major funding, implementation of long-term agreements, and lead a nation. The responsibility of these elected positions is enormous and as we move towards self-government we should start looking at developing some requirements for candidates.”

Gull expressed her gratitude for the support she has received from the Cree Nation and for the opportunity to serve.

“I will be spending the first few months of my term learning the files that I will be following up on for the former Deputy Grand Chief,” said Gull. I will be focusing on spending time in the communities and listening to their concerns and issues. A large part of my role will be working with the local levels and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Kaitlynn Hester

For Youth Grand Chief Kaitlynn Hester, being a woman in Cree politics isn’t about gender.

“I am human and I have goals like any other leader does. As a leader, this is new to me. I am willing to learn as I go. I believe I will have the support from our Cree Nation leaders and former leaders,” she said.

Hester sees her sex as a non-issue as she is there simply to do the job she was elected to do.

“I just want to focus on my role as the youth leader to guide, direct, initiate and serve our young people. As a young woman, I was raised to respect one another. I respect all leaders, regardless of their gender or job title,” she said.

In terms of being a role model to the youth, Hester took a very humble approach.

“I don’t want to be the leader who thinks I am better than everyone else. I am no better than anyone. I can only be better than I was yesterday. I can have 10 goals today, and 20 more tomorrow. As I said, I want to inspire the youth to do more. As a young leader, it is our time. A new leadership is on the rise. I am here for the youth. I want to encourage and support the youth. We are here today and tomorrow,” said Hester.

As for her legacy, Hester could only articulate it metaphorically.

“You know how rain drops on the water and makes ripples that keep expanding? It starts with a single raindrop that makes a small ripple, which then turns into bigger ones. That’s how I want my legacy to be. I want my legacy to be remembered as the young leader who inspired the Cree Nation to aspire, to tell youth not to be afraid of chasing their goals, and to support them, bringing culture and language, connecting youth to our Elders, and to recognize the youth and let them be heard and seen. And to bring anything that our Cree Nation needs,” said Hester.

Hester graduated from high school in 2012, and successfully completed a Recreation and Leisure Services program in 2017.

“I have experience and passion in working with the youth. I love learning about our Cree culture. I can speak, read and write in Cree. I’ve always dreamed of having a young leader in our Cree Nation, and here I am. I never knew I was dreaming about myself all this time. Now that I am here, I want to serve our young people,” she said.

“I would like to encourage youth to embrace themselves, chase their goals, fight their challenges and struggles, increase their self-confidence and break their bubble, ignore the negativity, treat others the way you want to be treated, smile, live, laugh and love.”

Pauline Trapper-Hester

As Chief of the Washaw Sibi Nation, Trapper-Hester represents people who are still without a proper community but are a Cree community nonetheless.

“At first, I didn’t see myself as a ‘woman in politics in the Cree Nation’ and it was certainly not the reason for me to pursue it. I always believed that the Washaw Sibi Eeyou are and were entitled to have their own Cree community and by exercising this right, it brought me to where I am now. I’ve been serving my community members since 2012 and I feel honoured to do so; it is a privilege to work with the Cree Nation as political leadership.”

As far as balancing her work-home life, Trapper-Hester’s adult children have all left the nest to pursue their goals through post-secondary education.

“I try my very best to attend to their needs and pursue my loving intentions to stay connected with them by visiting with them often and spending quality family time with them. With the technology we have today, we are able to connect more. It can be challenging at times, but we do take the time to debrief our relationships to one another, and make changes if we need to, so that we can continue our attentiveness to one another,” said Trapper-Hester.

As for being a woman in Cree politics, Trapper-Hester said she sees it as bringing equality to the position of leadership and Cree politics. “ I am very pleased to be a part of this evolution of our Cree Nation,” she said.

Trapper-Hester said she wishes to showcase strength, courage and determination for other aspiring Cree women. “Pursue what you believe in, believe in yourselves, and anything is possible,” she said.

Once her time as Chief passes, Trapper-Hester hopes that she will have shown integrity, strength and courage in pursuing the vision of Washaw Sibi Eeyou as a full-fledged Cree community, “where my people will have that sense of belonging, once and for all.”

Trapper-Hester has a degree in Business Administration and earlier worked for the Cree School Board and the Washaw Sibi Band Council.

“It started when I was working for the Waskaganish School under the direction of late Gerti Diamond-Murdoch in 1993. I experienced her leadership qualities and that inspired me to move forward in a leadership role,” said Trapper-Hester.

Louisa Wynne

For Whapmagoostui Chief Louisa Wynne, life can be difficult for a quickly growing community that’s in the middle of a housing crisis, still isn’t hooked up to the broadband network, and is still awaiting the completion of a key greenhouse/biomass project.

Even though she is taking university courses in administration Wynne feels the job is very challenging at times. But she believes the Creator had a hand in getting her where she is today.

“Like everything else in life, politics has its highs and lows,” she explained. “Sometimes I lose sleep over difficult decisions that have to be made. I remind myself though that the decisions I make are first and foremost made in the interest of the people I represent.

“One of the highs that makes the loss of sleep worth it is when someone comes up to me and thanks me for the work I’ve done to help them.”

As a mother of two adult daughters (24 and 18), Wynne said she doesn’t have to worry about them too much. At the same time, family life isn’t easy for Wynne due to the lack of medical services Whapmagoostui.

“I’m married to a man who has been on dialysis for over three years and because of it has to live in another community. I’m also a grandmother to a seven-year-old boy, who’s under my care and it’s hard on him when I travel. It is hard to balance family and work life but I try to do family-oriented activities whenever the opportunity arises,” said Wynne.

“Initially, it was difficult for us as a family when my husband, as the head of the house, had to be away from us for his illness, especially for our grandson who’s very close to his grandfather – in fact, he calls him ‘Dad’. When I get overwhelmed I remind myself that everything will pass no matter how difficult the situation may be, and that this is only a four-year term. I’m already in the second year of my mandate and time flies when you’re really busy.”

In terms of what being a woman brings to the table, Wynne said that in the past the position of Chief had always been a male-dominated one.

“It’s fairly recent that women have been elected as chiefs. I notice that now, men are more accepting of female leaders and give us the same regard as our male counterparts,” she observed. “However, I think because women are raised differently we’re generally more nurturing and companionate leaders – just my opinion, no offense to the men. I also think we’re better organised.”

Wynne hopes to see more women in politics.

“I believe everybody – male and female – has it in them to do whatever it is they set out to do in life, so I encourage young women to enter politics and I’d like to see more women as chiefs and in other leadership roles,” said Wynne.

Wynne is highly educated. She is currently doing a degree in Administration after completing a certificate in Administration from the Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) and holds a certificate from the two-year Executive Program in Office Administration from Canadore College (North Bay) as well as a DEC in Early Childhood Education from Vanier College (Montreal).

Before being elected Chief in March 2016, Wynne had served as Deputy Chief for four years and held numerous administrative positions at the Whapmagoostui Band Office.

After her time in political leadership is done, Wynne said she would like to be remembered as somebody who had made a difference in her community.

“As the first female chief I hope I’m starting a tradition in my community of female leadership. Put simply, I’d like to be seen as a catalyst for change and as a trailblazer for young women and girls in my community. I want them to believe in themselves and that everyone has a gift to share with others. They can achieve whatever they want to in life if you believe in yourself.”


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