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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Newly elected Chisasibi Chief Daisy House opens up to the Nation

BY Ben Powless Sep 11, 2020

When Daisy House drove to Gatineau in August, she had a lot to think about. She was there to help her son set up for college while navigating the new realities for students and city life. She was initially worried she might have to isolate when she returned home until she found out Gatineau was removed from mandatory isolation orders. But she was also waiting to hear back about the elections in Chisasibi – where she was running for both chief and deputy chief. 

That’s where she received a phone call just before midnight, August 21. Accompanied by her two sons, 17 and 13 (her husband had stayed home), she put the call on speakerphone. It was the community’s electoral officer, informing her she had been elected Chief of Chisasibi with 83% of the vote. She was told she would have the weekend to think about it.

The electoral officer then called back, saying they had to notify the community about the deputy chief position – she could only accept one position. She decided to accept the position as Chief and leave behind her former position as Deputy Chief.

Chief Daisy House says she was relieved. “It was surreal,” she admitted in an interview. “I’m still not used to it after a week. I have to remind myself I’m the Chief after being the Deputy Chief for 13 years.”

Still, it had not been an easy decision to originally run for chief.

“I knew what the job entailed, working with three chiefs, including Chief Bobbish for eight years. I saw the ins and outs of being a chief, so I didn’t take it lightly,” she said. 

People had asked her to run for the top post. She initially resisted but ended up entering the race after then-Chief Davey Bobbish announced he would not seek another term. 

Bobbish, the son of former Chief Charles Bobbish, was first elected in 2012 to complete a five-year term that began in 2010. He was re-elected in 2015. 

Though it isn’t the first time a woman has been as Chisasibi Chief, it is the first time that two women serve as Chief and Deputy Chief, with Paula Napash having been elected to fill House’s former role. 

Asked about her plans for her five-year mandate, Chief House says she wants to maintain the course set by the previous band council. She plans to implement the five-year plan developed by the community, as well as the existing housing and economic development strategies, as well as the land and development plans. 

“I don’t have a personal agenda, it’s going to be what the community direction is and continue moving those forward,” she said. “We have quarterly general meetings where their voices will always be heard, and we decide from there.” 

Prior to her 13 years as Deputy Chief, House also had jobs as director of a local daycare centre, student-affairs technician, teacher, student life animator and academic advisor – in addition to serving as the Youth President, before that became known as the Youth Chief. 

The purpose of community meetings wasn’t always clear to House – she says that many people see them as just a place for people to come with complaints.

“Over time I understood why we have those meetings,” she said, however. “It’s a time to listen to community members’ concerns and questions and listen to their stories. People teach you stuff from our history in meetings, I cherish those stories because they tell us where we came from, where we’re at, and where we want to go.”

That’s where she learned about the principles of respect and civility – listening to stories of how community meetings and gatherings used to be. 

“They said we used to say whatever we wanted to each other, that there were shouting matches at council meetings. But the next day everybody would be civil and forgive each other and leave business there.” 

House says that was an important lesson about understanding the role of leadership: “If someone yells at me, I forgive them the next day. You can’t hold grudges in a leadership role.” 

Her days now are similar – just busier. They begin at 6 am and often end at 1 am as she juggles family and new roles and responsibilities in leadership while managing meetings, emails and time. “Everyone seems to want to speak to the chief, or have a meeting with the chief,” she explained.  

Her family has been supportive through the whole process. She’s in touch with her 17-year-old more over the phone now, coaching him about not eating out too often. With her 13-year-old starting Secondary 2 soon, she counts on her husband a lot. 

Still, this is nothing new to her. “My baby was six months old when I got elected as Deputy Chief. If I can breastfeed him as Deputy Chief, I can do anything!” she laughed. 

For House, the biggest challenge she anticipates is dealing with social issues, since she feels it’s something that the chief can’t solve alone, but requires a collective approach. 

She says that each family and institution has a role to play – from schools, to the health board, to police: “We’re all in this together and have to do our part. We all have a role to play as individuals and entities.” 

Even when there are frustrations, House wants community members to know that the council is still listening. 

“We can’t always do everything because of budget constraints, some things take time to plan, while other things can be resolved in a day. Be patient with us we can do our best to resolve concerns. We’re all human.”

While there are challenges, House says that her reward is uniting the community.

“It’s working with everyone, collaborating with different groups, with the health board, housing, seeing these ideas come to fruition, building on cooperation and collaboration,” she described. 

Asked what she would say to young people who are considering getting involved in leadership, House is quick to push them forward. “I say go for it. I was the shyest person in high school.”

“In 1995, it was the first time I got elected, fresh out of college… learning as much as I could just asking questions non-stop. The older members said to keep asking those questions,” she recounted. “It’s all about listening, people sharing stories, people teaching you.”

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.