Angela Levasseur, who recently graduated from law school, was elected as the next Chief of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in a close four-way contest Aug. 24-25.
The first female chief of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation says that before being elected by members of the First Nation on August 24-25, she doubted there were enough people who believed a woman could be the best choice for her to achieve a victory.
“There are still people who have attitudes that women are not the best choice to lead,” Angela Levasseur said in a phone interview with the Citizen of Thompson August 29.
Just as clearly, there are plenty of people who disagree with this idea.
“This myth was debunked by the people of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation because they elected me as their first female chief,” she said.
Levasseur received 496 votes, edging out Felix Walker, a former NCN councilor who also served in numerous administrative positions for the First Nation, by 65 votes. Former NCN leader Jerry Primrose got 358 votes and William Elvis Thomas, who ran for leader several times, got 325.
Incumbent leader Marcel Moody was not running for re-election, but was running for council and got the most votes in that race, making him Levasseur’s deputy leader for the next term. Outgoing councilors Jeremiah Spence, Cheryl Moore and Ron D. Spence were also re-elected. They are joined at the next council by Kim Linklater and Shirley Linklater. Shirley Linklater is a former board member while Kim Linklater is a first-time board member.
More than 1,600 NCN citizens voted in the election, including 1,149 in Nelson House, 252 in Thompson, 36 in Leaf Rapids and 190 in Winnipeg. There were also six mail-in ballots.
The elected leader, who will be sworn in with the new council on September 6, says it was a long night watching from the upper level of the community arena as votes were counted below.
“It was a pretty tight race,” she said, noting that it was nearly 5 a.m. before she left, finally feeling reasonably certain she would be the winner.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up or just assume I was going to win because at some point we were waiting for the polls to come in from Winnipeg and Thompson. It could have gotten things going either way.
Levasseur has a long interest in politics and wants to serve her people, although she didn’t anticipate it would be as an elected official.
“My ultimate goal was to become one of the nation’s lawyers,” says the recent graduate of Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Others saw a different path for her.
“Someone asked me [to run for chief] by community elders, and the majority of the elders were women,” says Levasseur. “I was raised to honor my elders, respect them and listen to them. And they were pretty adamant that I was going to run for leader. They were quite firm and insistent enough for me to introduce myself, so I agreed.
Politics is in Levasseur’s blood. Her great-grandfather Angus Bonner was leader of the NCN and she herself ran for positions with the University of Manitoba Students’ Union while enrolled there and also served as vice-president of the Native American Law Students Association while studying law.
More importantly, his mother was for many years president of Manitoba Native Women in the 1980s and 1990s and Levasseur remembers attending Native Women’s Association of Canada conferences and women’s meetings. Manitoba natives with her.
“I got to hear powerful women speak from all types of nations and it really inspired me,” she says. “It was a different kind of education, hearing very powerful women speak, grassroots leaders.”
Now the future NCN leader, who has three daughters and a granddaughter, is poised to serve as a role model for generations to come.
“I received a message from a woman who was congratulating me and she told me that as an aboriginal woman, she stands taller now because of this achievement, because I was elected chief,” says Lifter. “History in the making is a phrase I hear over and over again, but this is truly a historic moment. We are breaking down the barriers that have historically kept women out of leadership.
Having a female leader is often a first for NCN lately, but in the longer term, it’s actually a throwback to tradition.
“Before European contact and before colonization, the Cree nation was matriarchal and matrilineal,” says Levasseur. “We are coming to a point in history where the wrongs are righted and matriarchal society is restored.”
Once she assumes the role of leader, there are a number of priorities Levasseur wants to address, including self-sufficiency and housing.
“I would like to see our people be self-sufficient,” she said. “I want to get away from reliance on Indigenous Services Canada, reliance on welfare, reliance on government in any way.”
To do that, the elected leader, who has spent 21 years working as a teacher, says the focus must be on education.
“I want our people to learn, to train. I want them to achieve all their career goals and go to college, university, trade school.
Levasseur thinks NCN can leverage some of the training its members are already receiving to help it solve the housing problem.
“We are creating many carpenters at NCN who have the skills to build quality housing and what we need to do as a nation is invest in materials that won’t bring houses down,” he said. she stated.
House residents also have a role to play.
“I want to see our leadership encourage people to take responsibility for their homes, to take more responsibility for repairs and maintenance of their homes,” she says. “I also want people to know how to do basic home maintenance, to be able to do repairs. Housing and poverty are the very factors that keep First Nations people in a position where they constantly struggle and find themselves dependent on government and I want to reverse this trend.
Although a lot has changed for her this summer, from earning her law degree to her election as the next head of NCN, Levasseur says she’s taking it all in and has confidence that the Creator will help guide her on the right path.
“I’m very excited to work with my colleagues,” she said.