Meet Your Chiefs: Ouje-Bougoumou Chief Curtis Bosum

·5 min read

Re-elected for second term: 2019-2023. Annual salary: $133,309

Before becoming Chief, Curtis Bosum worked in numerous capacities related to his community’s economic development, including as the Chief Executive Officer of its local development corporation. Earlier in his career, he was involved in organizing the opening of a vehicle dealership in Ottawa and served as general manager of a community-owned snowmobile dealership in Chibougamau.

Name three achievements that stand out?

I think the greatest achievement for all the Cree communities has been our ability to get through the Covid pandemic relatively okay. Of course, we mourn those tragically lost and continue to heal from the holes left in our hearts, but we fared much better than many other places.

We have many people to thank for this achievement but perhaps most importantly it’s the people themselves, who understood their personal sacrifices were a small price to ensure the well-being of everyone else. It has been our people’s faith in leadership, both at the regional and local level, for which I have been extremely grateful. I know I can never take that for granted – respect is earned and doesn’t come automatically.

As we prepare for the future after Covid-19, we’ve ensured the community’s economy and living conditions continue to improve. We set aside $3.5 million to construct several duplexes to alleviate our housing shortage. We have also secured $1.4 million to construct a local commercial centre.

We’ve had discussions with Quebec regarding the restoration and rehabilitation of the old Principale Mine site, which operated when the mining industry had few environmental guidelines and left a legacy of serious contamination in our lakes. We’ve worked closely with Quebec to develop an effective plan to bring that site back to its original state as much as possible, positioning our contractors to benefit from the restoration work. I hope this becomes a model for restoring old mining sites throughout Eeyou Istchee.

Name one disappointment during your term?

During pandemic restrictions, it was frustrating to not be able to address all community member needs. Some things we were not in a position to act upon, and that is a real regret. I’m hopeful that in the coming years we can make up for lost time.

Where do you see the community going under your leadership?

We’ve been focusing on coming back from the pandemic stronger and more vibrant than ever. We’ve had consultations about our community’s priorities, creating opportunities to understand members’ concerns and aspirations. We’ll be redoubling our efforts in housing, employment, mental health services and the preservation and promotion of our Cree language and culture.

When our community was being planned, we were guided by a certain vision that combined our traditional values with contemporary technology. Now that we have got through the pandemic, I believe it’s time to recommit ourselves to that original vision that inspires us to be a model of what an Indigenous community can achieve.

To achieve such an honourable vision, we need to provide the resources that support our members to be the best they can be. This is what inspires me to get up every day and work for the benefit of my community.

What do you think the community will look like in 5 or 10 years?

Our community population will have expanded and the needs for housing, employment and cultural and recreational programs will all significantly increase. I hope we have a community filled with youth inspired to contribute, adults actively pursuing fulfilling and rewarding careers, people with the resources to live traditional ways of life and motivated to leave our community better than when they found it.

How is a typical workday for you?

Anything can come up on any given day, from a municipal infrastructure emergency to urgent funding requests, natural disasters, human resources issues or serious concerns from community members. All these issues make the job very interesting but also challenging. Everything that makes up the job of Chief provides an opportunity for personal growth and for a deeper understanding of the needs of our community. I love it all and I wouldn’t expect it to be different.

Can you share some key moments on your path to becoming Chief?

I have been blessed to grow up in a family that modeled service – to family, community and our Cree Nation. Both my parents were always actively involved in working toward justice and improving the lives of Indigenous people everywhere while always finding a balance between family and work life.

They transmitted their passion for social justice to their children. They also modeled a strong sense of integrity, which I always try to reflect in my own behaviour. I’ve come to fully appreciate the depth of their commitment and willingness to make personal sacrifices to fulfill their honourable vision. I think of that and try to be that every day.

What is your team-player philosophy or motto?

When I first became Chief, I realized I can’t do it all myself. I can only be successful if my staff is provided with the necessary tools, training and resources. If a staff member appears not to be performing well, I won’t rush to judge but will try to address any underlying issues. Empathy and compassion are the best starting points to develop a solid administration. Empower all those around you to be the best they can be. We all benefit.

Anything else you’d like to add?

As many people in Eeyou Istchee are aware, the last six months have been extremely difficult for our family. So many people reached out to express their sympathies, love and admiration for my mother, Sophie. Their messages were extremely kind and helpful to us in coping with our loss. They made us feel less lonely in our grieving and provided considerable comfort, knowing that my mother had touched so many people and was a positive influence in their lives. Mista-miigwetch to you all.

Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation