A northern Manitoba First Nation has elected its first female chief and the community’s new leader says she plans to get to work immediately looking for ways to improve the lives of those living in her community.
“I want to help our people achieve self-sufficiency,” newly-elected Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) Chief Angela Levasseur said on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to see the continuation of First Nations people and Indigenous people depending on the government. I believe we are capable of producing our own revenue and I want to see a community where no one is left behind.”
Last week voters in NCN, a remote First Nations community more than 850 kilometres north of Winnipeg and about 65 kilometres west of the city of Thompson, voted in Levasseur as chief, and she will now step into the role with an impressive background and resume.
Levasseur recently completed a law degree, specializing in Indigenous Law, at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota, while she also holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Education, and a Post-Baccalaureate degree in education from the University of Manitoba.
She said she believes that education is very important for helping people in her community and other First Nations to succeed.
“I really strongly support education for my people,” Levasseur said. “I do believe education and training are keys to improving conditions for First Nations people.”
According to Levasseur, the biggest problem facing NCN community members currently is a lack of quality and affordable housing, which she said often forces multiple people and multiple families to live under one roof in the community that is home to approximately 3,000 on-reserve members.
“The most pressing need is housing for sure,” she said. “Things have really not changed in a very long time. In many ways, the conditions have gotten worse because our growth is happening exponentially and the building of homes does not match that growth.
“There is severe overcrowding and for most people, the most important thing in their lives is their home, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, it's important to be able to take care of your family, and give people a safe space to raise children, and a lot of people just don’t have that.”
Levasseur said she also knows there needs to be a focus on supporting the community’s children and youth, as she said when she worked as a teacher she would sometimes visit student’s homes in NCN, and see as many as 16-20 people living in one small house, and she saw how those living conditions affected students.
“I found some kids were really struggling because of their living conditions and dealing with a lack of sleep or often not even having their own bed, so I also really want to have our community work together to build pathways for our children,” Levasseur said.
According to Levasseur, she would like to see more NCN residents trained in skills that would allow them to build homes and work on other construction-related jobs and projects in the community, as there is a need for homes, but also for jobs and employment, and for people to build those homes.
“Let’s get people trained and trained in trades that can be used in the community, because we need to bolster employment, “she said. “And when we do, that is how we create that self-sufficiency.”
In her community, and in First Nations communities across the country, Levasseur said there is also a great need for healing from the many traumas that many Indigenous people have faced over successive generations.
“Empowerment is very important as a result of the many traumas brought on by colonization,” Levasseur said. “Many of our people are suffering from collective historical and intergeneration trauma.
“I want to focus on having our people heal, and focus on reconciliation, so we can move forward in a good way.”
Levasseur will be officially sworn in as Chief of NCN on Sept. 6.
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun