After recently being recognized for 40 years of exemplary service, Deputy Director Jim Hester has announced his retirement from the Eeyou Eenou Police Force (EEPF). As one of the last pioneers of Cree policing to retire, his decades of tireless dedication to the Cree Nation were an inspiration to many.
Hester said he has been enjoying his retirement one day at a time, in the same humble way he approached his work. When he began his policing career in Waskaganish at age 21, Hester told himself he would only stay five years. As more time went by, he felt a growing call to return to his trapline and family life.
“I had been postponing it for the last three years,” Hester told the Nation. “Telling my wife next year. Where it really got me was leaving my family during Goose Break. My grandkids always come to our camp. I managed to go to the bush but when I came back it really hit me, knowing they were out in the bush and I’m at work.”
Serving several years away from his home community, Hester had become well acquainted with the challenges of a career in law enforcement. It was often a lonely job, especially in the early days when he joined his brother-in-law Ernest Blueboy as the only police officers in Waskaganish.
“When I started working, Ernest was actually working alone,” Hester recalled. “I started on a wedding night – I can’t forget that night. We started at 10 pm Friday evening, then finally around 7 pm on Sunday I got to go home. That was my first shift on the job. It didn’t bug me.”
In those early days of First Nations policing, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) was responsible for administering and developing the Cree police. With experience of his community’s struggles and immense admiration for Blueboy, Hester enrolled in the SQ’s 16 weeks of basic training in Nicolet, Quebec.
“I thought it was cool at the time, our own people doing policing in our community,” explained Hester. “Once you go to Nicolet, you become well disciplined. You come out a different person if you take everything you’re taught.”
Although working conditions were difficult in the early years of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement’s implementation, it was also an exciting time for Crees dreaming of self-governance. Hester was motivated by his role in expanding the Cree police force and promised himself that he would see the EEPF become a reality by the end of his career.
“At certain times when Billy Diamond was grand chief, he invited us to negotiations with the Quebec and Canada governments,” Hester shared. “We went there and learned how they fought for funding to keep the policing going. The change I saw in the JBNQA was the Cree police – I knew there would be a time that would eventually come.”
When the EEPF was established in 2011, it not only signified the realization of a long-time goal but also the improvement of advancement opportunities and working conditions. Today’s Cree police can climb the ranks to director and have double the workforce.
“When we first started with only two police officers, the lack of sleep was really hard physically,” said Hester. “It was a constant from Friday to Sunday for four years. The crazy part was I didn’t have an annual vacation at the beginning. It didn’t bother me, just worked constantly and when a hockey or baseball tournament came, we would consider that a holiday.”
In the old days when few boundaries existed between patrols and investigations, officers would sometimes have to arrest their own relatives and follow the case through the courts. Hester strived to maintain objectivity, even swallowing his anger when his oldest son was targeted one winter and forced to walk home without a coat, hat or shoes.
Long before the EEPF was established, police generally worked alone except during weddings. Hester faced some harrowing experiences as a lone investigator but was thankful he could return home after a hard day to his wife.
“One month into my policing without any training, I had a missing person, eventually found in a little pond,” said Hester. “I had to do everything from A to Z on the report. The hardest was when I found a frozen body that happened to be a childhood friend, a neighbour. It hit me hard. Whatever I went through, my wife would feel the pain.”
Hester’s thankful he never had to employ his pistol or pepper spray in the line of duty, which he credits to his approach to resolving conflicts through communication. He has also developed close ties from community involvement, particularly playing sports and coaching youth teams.
“It’s those people I come across as friends who would eventually be there to watch my back,” Hester said. “It made it easy for me to go on a call and deal with 30-plus drunks. Most important is you have to communicate with the youth too. Those will be your friends and be more on your side.”
Hester is happy that more Cree are pursuing policing careers, including his grandson, who will graduate next year from a police technology program at Cégep de l’Abitibi-Témiscamingue. With many fond memories, he loves encountering people he helped along the way and encourages his former colleagues to persevere towards their goals.
“When I said my goodbyes in the headquarters, I told my wife after we left, ‘Wow, I wasn’t aware I made such a great impact’,” said Hester with characteristic humility. “People make their own impressive stories but for myself I just went day by day and did what I had to do in my work.”
Hester’s efforts and sacrifice haven’t gone unnoticed at the Cree Nation Government.
“We thank him for his courage, commitment and sacrifice,” said CNG executive director Bill Namagoose. “As a compassionate leader, he is an embodiment of optimism and perseverance. The Grand Chief, Deputy Grand Chief and I would like to wish Jim a long, happy and healthy retirement with his wife Mabel and their family.”