It hasn’t been an easy year for Sophie Bosum. Between personal health battles and the sudden loss of her youngest son Nathaniel in a motocross accident, she has faced adversity and overwhelming grief. Even as she was sharing her story with the Nation she was once again dealing with the loss of family members – her Auntie Jane in Waswanipi and Uncle Elvin McNabb, who was living in Western Canada.
Bosum was honoured November 3 for her contributions to Ouje-Bougoumou and Eeyou Istchee at the community’s Cree Nation’s women’s gala. Launched by Bosum herself a few years ago, the gala is a way to recognize women in her community who exemplify community spirit and the Cree way of giving to others without expecting anything in return.
Gala Interim Director Carrie Bush, Bosum’s friend and colleague, delivered a touching and poignant tribute to her mentor at the event.
“Sophie has been a guide, a mentor, a teacher, an example and an inspiration to me,” said Bush. “She has shown us all the kind of character required to make a contribution to our community, while at the same time ensuring the health and well-being of our families. She has been a role model of hard work, conscientiousness and caring, demonstrating how to manage multiple priorities at work and at home.
“She has served in many capacities: school commissioner, deputy chief, director of operations, director general, councillor, assistant executive director of Aanischaaukaamikw [Cultural Institute]…. Sophie has been a tireless and constant contributor for many years to Ouje-Bougoumou and to the Cree Nation. Today is our day to say, ‘We see you, we appreciate you and we are grateful for what you do for us.’”
Bosum spoke about recognizing the quiet contributions Cree women make in their homes, at their jobs and within their communities. She opened up on the loss of her son Nathaniel and the difficult journey she’s shared with her husband Abel and the rest of their family.
“A few years ago, we said we should start recognizing the women in the communities for things like leadership, culture – women who helped without being asked,” she said. “There’s a list of women who were recognized for their roles in the community…. I like to give back to the community and I never expect anything in return. But it seems like with Abel and I always end up being rewarded somehow.”
Bosum recalled the decision to leave the comfort of her home in Val-d’Or to take on the challenge of establishing Ouje-Bougoumou as a Cree community with her husband.
“When Abel was first asked to be Chief, there was no community,” she explained. “We were living in Val-d’Or, we had just bought a house, we had a good sitter, good schools for our kids. I didn’t see the same things that Abel did, I didn’t share his vision at first.
“One day we were visiting his grandparents off the highway at Camp 2, I could see his grandfather putting wood in the stove, cooking and I realized that these people needed a proper home. The people were scattered in different camps, different hunting grounds and I realized I was just being selfish, thinking only of my family. When I saw those conditions it opened my eyes to want to help them and my heart was there for them.”
Being awarded for her quiet dedication and community involvement couldn’t come at a better time for Bosum. She told the Nation that dealing with the loss of Nathaniel this past July has been one of the most difficult things she’s faced in her life.
“I was so down, so devastated that I lost my son,” she said. “I was blocking myself from everybody and staying in the house. But then Abel was invited to speak, and our first outing was in Mistissini when they honoured Matthew Coon Come.
She said didn’t want to go to the ceremony, intending to clean out Nathaniel’s room because she felt closer to him there.
“But people told us that we should go out and get help, and that’s what we did,” she said.
Her grief process is still ongoing but she has learned to lean on her family and friends.
“I cried every day, I cried every evening, I couldn’t hold it in,” she said. “We were stunned when Nathaniel passed, we were both numb. My heart was really broken. He was very close to us. He was so respectful to us. All my children are like that.
“When I spoke at the gala I said, ‘You just made my day, you gave me some strength and comfort.’ Knowing that people care really helps. It still pains me thinking about him but it’s the positive things I’m trying to think about now. He was 28, yet he was still my baby.”
Bosum is currently living in Mistissini where she’s tending to her grandson Liam.
“We went to see a few Elders [at the Mistissini powwow] and they helped us,” she said. “They told us ‘You’re going to grieve a long time – it’s harder losing a child that’s all grown up than a child that’s small and still a baby.’
Sophie is grateful that she and Abel were able to help cross an item off of Nathaniel’s bucket list last summer. The three flew to California so Nathaniel could cruise along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a motorcycle while she and Abel followed in a rental car.
“It will take years,” she concluded, “but you have to move on. You have other children and grandchildren. I was closing myself off trying to deal with my grief but I realize that I have other things to live for. Talking to them, checking up on them, having dinners with them, communicating with them every day, that has really helped.”