Education alumae breaks ground as the first female Deputy Chief in Mistissini
Call her the accidental deputy Chief of Mistissini. Kathleen Wootton insists she loves her job, but early on a political career in Eeyou Istchee was far from an obvious career choice.
For as much as the residential school system set her up for academic success it deprived of her of her own culture. She did not catch up in that respect until years later. With her teaching degree in hand, Wootton headed out to British Columbia where she taught adults, a great deal of them Aboriginals. From her students, Wootton learned about her own culture.
“I was learning as much from them about native culture as they were learning from me,” she acknowledged. “It wasn’t your typical student-teacher relationship, it was like a partnership.”
Years later she returned to her native Quebec and hit the books again, garnering a Master’s degree in educational leadership from McGill University. It was upon graduating that she was lobbied to run for deputy chief.
“I believe in second chances,” Wootton said. “I think there are different stages of your life where you go through different things. I don’t think you just live one life.”
Her first attempt at politics a few years earlier did not pan out. “People seemed to think [at the time] that I should run for chairman of the school board or this or that but for me it was not really something that I had (in mind) and I see it as fate in a way.”
Wootton is the first female deputy chief in Mistissini and has perhaps paved the way for other women to come. “As far as leadership roles are concerned, in Cree society the Cree women are only just starting to make inroads,” she noted.
As deputy chief, her goals have been to empower her people to do more for themselves and to take a role in policy making. “Aboriginal organizations should be looking at how we can start to develop programs and services for ourselves, believing in our own people, that they can create programs and services instead of looking to the government all the time to create programs for us.”
A truly inspirational woman, Kathleen Wootton has devoted much of her life to her people and having won her seat again by acclamation recently, she has much more to give.
Amy German, NATION
October 20, 2006