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Bonnie Learning
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Grand Chief Qupee looking to make positive changes for Labrador’s Innu communities

Anastasia Qupee has a vision for improving the communities and the lives of the Innu people of Labrador. The Sheshatshiu woman was recently elected as the Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, after a four-year hiatus in politics.

Talking with Anastasia Qupee, it is plain to see the pride she has in her home community of Sheshatshiu, a First Nation Reserve located in central Labrador.

A former Sheshatshiu Band Council Chief, Qupee recently became just the second woman in the history of the Innu Nation to hold the top job of Grand Chief — replacing Prote Poker — after winning the recent Innu Nation election on Aug. 15.

The organization represents approximately 2,300 Innu in Labrador.

Former Natuashish Chief Simeon Tshakapesh claimed the title of Deputy Grand Chief, replacing Jeremy Andrew, who resigned earlier this summer.

A new board of directors for both Sheshatshiu and Natuashish was also elected on Aug. 15.

The new directors in Sheshatshiu include Eugene Hart, Bernice Penashue, Agatha Pone, Louisiana Rich, Gervais Penashue and Etienne Rich.

The newly-elected Natuashish directors are Clarence Nui, Pater Pasteen, Penash Rich, Edward Piwas, Agathe Rich and Nora Mistanapeu. 

“It was a very good feeling (to win),” said Qupee.

“At some point I knew I was going to go back to politics, and when people nominated me to run and approached me, I felt it was time. I also talked to elders about their vision for our communities — I had strong support from both Sheshatshiu and Natuashish.”

Qupee had just a short time to actively campaign — three days to be exact — due to extenuating family circumstances, but it proved enough to win her the seat, and to set about making change for the Labrador Innu.

One of Qupee’s top priorities, she says, is to be more proactive in preserving the Innu language and culture — a vision, she says, that elders want to see happen as well.

“I would like these areas to stay strong,” she said. “We have taken steps to do this by implementing an ‘outpost’ program, where families go out to the country.

“But I would also like to see cultural centres set up in both Sheshatshiu and Natuashish, with Innu people working there. You can find lots of stuff on the Innu culture outside our communities, but nothing inside our communities.”

Qupee noted elders play a very important role in the Innu culture, as well as within the Innu Nation.

“The elders give input on the land claims file, they play a big role in that, and they will continue to be involved. We actually have an elder’s committee and they come to meetings with us.”

Another goal for Qupee is staying on top of the Impact and Benefits Agreements (IBA’s) the Innu have with various companies in Labrador.

“We want to maximize the full potential of these IBA’s,” said Qupee.

“Part of this process will be the creation of jobs and businesses for our communities.”

She added the Innu Nation will also be working towards more self-governance in areas such as education and social programs.

“We have a need for more Innu teachers and social workers, to run more of our own programs and services,” she said.

“We are talking with the province about the evolution of Child,

Youth and Family Services — how can we support these programs?”

Qupee — a runner for the last few years — said she would also like to see a healthier community and healthier lifestyle.

“I want to see more recreational programs for people, for the children,” she said.

Overall, Qupee said she is ready to tackle the challenges she will face as Grand Chief over her three-year term.

“I feel a good energy…that has a positive impact on me. I think good things will happen for us.”

Organizations: First Nation Reserve, Sheshatshiu Band Council Chief, Family Services

Geographic location: Labrador, Sheshatshiu

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