Flags across Eeyou Istchee will be lowered to half-mast to honour the life of Sophie Happyjack Bosum – who passed away February 3 following an extended illness – until her funeral on March 2.
Her husband, former Grand Chief Abel Bosum, broke the news with a heartbreaking post: “My childhood sweetheart, my partner in life, my soulmate, my best friend, the love of my life, Sophie, has gone home!”
Born June 24, 1956, to Jacob and Winnie Happyjack on her late father’s trapline in Waswanipi territory, Sophie was sister to Lily, Flora, Charlotte, John, Jack, Danny, Anna, Daisy and the late Norman. After a traditional life on the land in early childhood, Sophie was taken to residential school in La Tuque and was profoundly shaped by her experiences there.
She met her future husband at La Tuque, where a friendship deepened into a lifelong partnership committed to fighting injustices against Indigenous people. When Sophie returned home in summer, Abel would sometimes hitchhike two days across the territory to visit her.
Sophie and Abel married in 1975 and began their family in Chibougamau, where Sophie worked closely with Anne-Marie Awashish and Judy Parsaud to establish what’s now called the Eenou Friendship Centre.
Their children – Irene, Curtis, Reggie and Nathaniel (who died in a motocross event in 2018) – motivated their desire for a better life. Shortly after the birth of their second child, the growing family moved to Val-d’Or, where the first office of the Grand Council of the Crees was located.
It was here that both began their remarkable careers contributing to the development of the Cree Nation, Abel initially in an economic development position and Sophie in the Cree School Board’s purchasing department.
“I remember living in Val-d’Or back in 1976 when my dad [Billy Diamond] was Grand Chief,” posted Lorraine Diamond on social media. “The day after my brother Philip was born, Sophie made breakfast for me and my brothers. Not only were they friends with my parents, but all became family because we were Cree.”
Eventually they moved back to Chibougamau to help establish Ouje-Bougoumou as the ninth Cree community. As the new community blossomed, so did Sophie’s professional career in a series of trailblazing roles. Becoming the new administration’s first bookkeeper, she developed the finance system.
Soon she became Ouje-Bougoumou’s first woman treasurer, their first Deputy Chief, the first female president of the local development corporation and the first woman to become director general. Her passing is a deep loss for a community that remembers her as a “guiding light”.
“It is through her achievements, dedication and very special personal touch that she will be remembered and cherished,” stated Carrie Bush, Ouje-Bougoumou director general. “May we continue to be guided by her wisdom, her passion to make our community a healthy and thriving environment for future generations, her compassion for all our community members, and by her generosity of spirit.”
Sophie also played an important role in the region’s education development. She served two terms as school commissioner, and as a community education administrator.
“Throughout her tenure, she served with her humble, respectful and compassionate nature,” stated a tribute from the Cree School Board. “She joined the Cree School Board with exemplary experience and left with an insurmountable legacy.”
When CREECO and the Board of Compensation moved to Ouje-Bougoumou in 1995, Sophie was instrumental in setting up the office as the first administrative assistant. She became the first local Cree woman to serve on the Board of Directors – for three terms.
“Those who were privileged to meet Sophie will remember her warm personality and genuine love for people and life,” stated CREECO. “She was a remarkable woman and an inspirational leader who led with a true heart.”
At the Cree Nation level, she served as director of the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association and as assistant executive director of the Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute. Remembered as a staunch defender of the Cree language and way of life, Sophie approached each position with dedication, dignity and integrity.
“Sophie was a rare treasure in our territory,” posted Chisasibi Chief Daisy House. “She really put her whole heart and spirit into her efforts advancing our Nation. What an impressive legacy she has left behind. Sophie broke glass ceilings in many respects. She will always be remembered as a true trailblazer for Eeyou Iskwauw.”
Heartfelt condolences have flooded in from all over Eeyou Istchee and from organizations such as the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador and Makivik Corporation. CNG executive director Bill Namagoose attested to the “comfort and confidence” she brought to the many people she encountered along her journey.
“Sophie will be remembered as a First Lady, not only because of her support to Abel but also because she blazed so many trails for Cree women to occupy important positions locally and regionally,” read a statement from Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty and Deputy Grand Chief Norman Wapachee. “She was indeed ahead of her time – Sophie was, in every respect, our First Lady.”
Sophie found a careful balance between work and family requirements. Nothing gave her greater joy than being surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandson.
“Her door – and her heart – have always been open to anyone who needed a shoulder to cry on, a word of encouragement or wise counsel,” posted Abel on her birthday last year. “Sophie has set a high bar for integrity, loyalty, devotion, commitment, unending love and compassion. We are in awe and will always be mindful of how fortunate we are to be the beneficiaries of everything she has given us.”
by Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter