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Politics ᐊ ᓃᑳᓂᔅᑭᑭᓂᐧᐃᒡ ᐊᐱᑎᓰᐧᐃᓐ

Whapmagoostui elects new chief and council

BY Patrick Quinn Oct 9, 2020

After many years of dedicated work in the local government, Robbie Kawapit was elected Chief of Whapmagoostui in the first round of council elections September 16 with 51% of the vote. 

“A new chapter has just begun in my life and I’m excited to see how it turns out,” Kawapit stated on Facebook following his victory. “Yes, I know at times it will not be easy for me or my family, but we all gotta ride the storm to get to safe harbours. A big thank you to Whap people.”

Kawapit defeated former Chief Louisa Mamianskum Wynne, Lisa Petagumskum and John Shem. The Nation was unable to reach Kawapit for further comment.

“Every election there’s always some sort of excitement,” said Deputy Returning Officer Sidney Orr. “The Chief tried a few times before. He’s a good guy. It’s a good indicator of his strength, not to give up.”

The race for Deputy Chief between Rita Masty-Sheshamush, John Mamianskum and Isaac Masty was tighter, forcing a run-off election on September 28 between the first two candidates. Masty-Sheshamush was declared winner.

Elected as band councillors were Amy Dick, Matthew A. Iserhoff, Jordan Masty, Elijah Sandy and Maggie Sheshamush George. Maria Kawapit Jr and Candice Sheshamush earned the title of women councillors.

“Young people are getting more involved,” Orr told the Nation. “I think they understand it’s important to have a government to work for them. They’ll have to learn how to govern, how meetings work, what’s expected. I think there are a few with that experience.”

With Returning Officer John Henry Wapachee often unavailable because of current travel restrictions, Orr played a key role in this election’s planning and preparations. Wapachee was present throughout every nomination meeting and would correspond with the election team with online messaging.

Clarification was sometimes required regarding certain elements of the local by-laws, such as enabling electors outside the region to vote by fax. There was also some confusion about how much time candidates had to accept their nomination. Orr had two days to find and inform nominees, who then had two days from that point to decide whether they would accept.

Of course, public safety precautions made voting logistics a little more complicated this year. Polling stations and pens had to be disinfected after each voter, which sometimes resulted in a line outside. Voters from the same household were encouraged to come together to reduce the need for this cleaning.

Like any community, the new government will be tasked with adjusting to conditions imposed by the pandemic. A positive case of Covid-19 was found in neighbouring Kuujjuarapik a few weeks ago, though the Cree Health Board has found no evidence of the virus circulating in Whapmagoostui. 

“There will be the same priorities there are every year,” asserted Orr. “Is the ship going to come in? Are we going to have our transportation in time? Is winter going to be good to us? We are looking at having alternative transportation like a winter road.”

Orr also anticipates a growing need for skill development in the energy sector. As Hydro-Québec phases out diesel, there will be new opportunities in renewable energy like wind power. 

“There are a lot of opportunities just in those two sectors,” said Orr. “The energy sector is now active. It’s going to happen. We’re looking at having a transportation connection to the south. Those are two major things that will affect people.”

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Patrick Quinn lives in Montreal with his wife and two small children. With a passion for words and social justice, he enjoys sharing Eeyou Istchee's stories and playing music.