Manitoba

First female chief elected in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation

Angela Levasseur is a mother of five children and a former teacher. She will be inaugurated on Sept. 6.

'I want to see our people advance,' says Angela Levasseur, who will be inaugurated Sept. 6

Angela Levasseur was elected to be the first female chief in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, also known as Nelson House. (Submitted by Angela Levasseur)

Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation has elected its first female chief.

Angela Levasseur is a mother of five children and a former teacher. She will be inaugurated on Sept. 6.

"Between myself and my opponents, I was very surprised and also overwhelmed. But more importantly, I was deeply honoured to be chosen by the people as their leader," she said. 

Levasseur didn't plan on being chief, at least not for a very long time. She spent the last few years specializing in Indigenous Law at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota. In July, she became first person from the Cree nation to graduate with a law degree. 

She had plans to serve her community as a lawyer — something she's hoped for since she was 12 years old. 

"Things took a little bit of a turn when I was asked in January by some elders in the community to run for chief," she said.

Decision to run for chief

The band office in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, where Chief-Elect Angela Levasseur will serve her 4-year term. (CBC News)

Levasseur said she was surprised and honoured to be asked, but she also struggled with the decision because she had her heart set on practicing law as soon as she graduated.

"I was so focused and fixated on my goal of becoming a lawyer. This was in my final semester and going through law school was an incredible journey for me," she said. 

After conversations with her professors and mentors, Levasseur learned if she was chosen to be the chief, her law degree could still be used to help her community, which is located about 65 km west of Thompson in northern Manitoba.

"I can use a lot of the skills that I learned in order to help my people in the capacity of leadership," she said.

'Women have always been leaders': Cook

Chief Heidi Cook, who is the fourth female chief to be elected in Misipawistik Cree Nation, said it's only natural that more women are stepping into leadership roles in First Nations politics. She said it's a welcome change from women being excluded in the past.

"Women have always been leaders in our communities and in our families," Cook said.

"It feels like a time of change in our nations. People are starting to wake up, people are starting to heal."

Chief Heidi Cook from Misipawistik Cree Nation says with the changing times, it's only natural to see more diversity within First Nation politics. (Submitted by Heidi Cook, MKO)

The council of Misipawistik Cree Nation, also known as Grand Rapids FIrst Nation, is made up of three positions — two of which are occupied by women.

"The change is happening in like all across the country. There's more a return to traditional governance," she said.

Cook, who is a single mother, says it's difficult for her to balance being chief and having two kids. But the experience has been worth it.

Levasseur hopes to spend her four-year term empowering her people by helping them achieve their goals through education.

"I want to see our people advance. I want to see them improve and I want to see them be healthy and happy."

Off-reserve representation

Levasseur is also proud of being the first chief elected who lives off-reserve. She lives in Thompson, but is planning to move back to Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, also known as Nelson House, as soon as she can.

"One thing that I heard during the campaign period is that our off-reserve members feel that they are not valued, not respected, not necessarily being listened to," she said.

"One of my firm beliefs is that an NCN member is an NCN member no matter where they live."

Levasseur believes her main role as the new chief is to listen to the council and her people.

"I spent a lot of time with our people — from the very young to our elders. What I heard consistently is people feel that their voices are not heard." she said.

"I want to work very hard to make sure that people are listened to. That their views and their concerns are taken into account. I also want it to encourage our people strongly not to just come to the leadership with problems and issues, but with solutions."

Levasseur will join the new Deputy Chief Marcel Moody and councillors Jeremiah Spence, Cheryl Moore, Ron D. Spence, Kim Linklater and Shirley Linklater as Nisichawayasihk's new chief and council.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joanne Roberts joined CBC News in 2021 with the inaugural Pathways Program. She is the host of the short CBC series Being Asian: Competing Truths and the creator of the short series I Am, produced with CBC's Creator Network. Joanne is based in Winnipeg. Find her on socials @ReporterJoanne or email joanne.roberts@cbc.ca.

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