New OJ Chief Curtis Bosum picks up the torch

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curtis-bosumIt’s been a whirlwind year for the newly elected Chief of Oujé-Bougoumou, Curtis Bosum. The victor in the August 26 runoff election against Anthony Hughboy, Bosum started 2015 as a band councillor before resigning to run Oujé-Bougoumou Enterprise as CEO. Now he’s starting his third job this year: leading a young, growing community into a future fraught with challenge.

Many credited the youth vote for the widespread change in Oujé’s leadership. Also elected were Deputy Chief Lance Cooper, and councillors Gaston Cooper, Harry Bosum, Janie Wapachee, Sam R. Bosum and Nancy Bosum.

It’s a subject Chief Bosum addressed in his inauguration speech September 8.

“Much was said during our recent election campaign about Oujé-Bougoumou being ready to make a transition in its leadership to a new generation,” Bosum observed. “While indeed this election may have been, in part, about that, and we may be witnessing the passing of the torch to younger leaders, I would like to be very clear that this transition will not be about ignoring the past, and the achievements of the past, and it will not be about arrogantly pretending we already know everything.”

To that end, Bosum spent his first full day in office in an orientation session with the former chief and council to get status updates on ongoing projects and files.

But there’s no denying that, at 37, the new chief is part of new generation of leaders. In an interview with the Nation after his first day on the job, he noted that only two years ago he was still eligible to vote in Youth Council elections. And he reiterated his campaign promise to engage the youth of Oujé-Bougoumou in a dialogue to help chart his community’s future.

“They are the next generation of leaders,” he said, adding that the local youth chief participated in that day’s information session at his invitation. “We need to continue the Cree Nation Government’s capacity-building initiative by building capacity for our community. It’s vital that we build upon our youth and address their needs and training.”

It’s part of a dialogue he intends to have with the whole community before setting priorities for this council’s mandate. Bosum said he’s determined to obtain a wide consensus for the agenda of his term.

Some issues are already apparent.

“Housing, as in First Nations communities across Canada, is a big challenge,” he said. “But we need to think outside the box. With our housing program, we need to look beyond our community to determine how to address this issue. This is a dialogue we must have with the community.”

Bosum also is looking to expand Cree-run business services in the community, as members currently must drive to Chapais or Chibougamau for groceries and other basic goods. As well, at Oujé-Bougoumou Enterprise, he regularly met with mining and forestry companies, which he also sees as job-creation centres for the roughly 60% of the population under 35 years old.

Another opportunity is the reclamation of old contaminated mine sites, Bosum emphasized. “The work of the committee examining this issue is well advanced. This is definitely something I’ll be looking into, as it is also an opportunity for employment and investment.”

Bosum has a unique position as a young political leader, having grown up watching his father, Abel Bosum, during his 13 years as chief during the struggle to found Oujé-Bougoumou as a unified community.

“I was exposed to a lot of stuff I didn’t understand at the time,” Curtis Bosum recounted. “The meetings in the camps; as a child it was awesome. Going from camp to camp, meeting all the Elders. I saw the commitment and the sacrifices. The Elders had a vision of having a place to call home. You look at Oujé-Bougoumou now and I think it is far beyond what anyone had imagined.”

He says he is humbled by the opportunity to lead O-J into a new era.

“I’d like to thank the community for putting their trust in me and voting for me as chief,” Bosum said. “It’s a four-year journey. I want to recreate something we had in the past: getting our community to unite toward a common goal for the betterment of our members.”

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