By Brandon Cyr.
Byron Bitternose has been the Chief of George Gordon’s First Nation for two years, even though he became the Chief through unfortunate circumstances. In April of 2018, The Chief of Gordon’s reserve passed away from cancer. Chief Bitternose was voted as acting chief, and in September the band had an election where he was able to retain his position. Chief Bitternose may be serving as Chief in troubled times, but he has hope for his people’s future.
Chief Bitternose spoke of his path to the position, “It was in 08 I retired from the Regina public school board. I got a job with the band as the coordinator. I worked there 4 years and put my name in for councillor and got elected. I never really thought of being a chief, but one of my buddies there, john McNabb died of cancer. I was a councillor at the time, so the other councillors approached me to be acting chief.” The position of Chief was thrust upon him, but he was able to learn on the job, and served as acting Chief for the 2 years before the Band election.
Due to proper planning, George Gordon First Nation has not been hit hard by the coronavirus. Chief Bitternose said of the virus, “We’ve had one case but since then it’s been good. They tested negative now so other than that we’ve been pretty lucky. We can’t keep our band members on reserve but we encourage them to stay home and isolate… It’s a totally different world right now. Our band members like anybody else struggles to stay home and not socialize.” He talked of the precautions they were taking, “We have 5 entrances on to the reserve and as of right now we aren’t letting any non-band member on. Everybody that comes in has to get their temperature taken and we have 5 questions from the health department (that we ask them).”
On September 9th, hundreds of band members from Gordon’s First Nation went out to vote for the chief and council. Talking about the election, Chief Bitternose said “We were supposed to have an election April 9th but that’s when Covid hit. So us knowing nothing about it, we got a hold of Ottawa and asked, what can we do here? How can we keep our people safe? … So Ottawa extended our term for 6 months. It upset people, but at that time we were looking at protecting our band members, our voters”.
There were voting stations in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, and on Gordon’s reserve. Having an election was important as in 2016 the band needed to have a re-election due to 14 missing ballots, which was within the margin of victory for Chief. The election was sure to follow the provincial health guidelines and issued masks and hand sanitizer to voters. Chief Bitternose mentioned that the 6 month postponement of the election gave them a chance to make a plan to protect people from the coronoavirus.
Chief Bitternose spends much of his time advocating for George Gordon’s First Nation with political and federal agencies. “I have a number of friends in the provincial government from being with Regina public school. Many politicians either know or are ministers in the government. So I always get a first chance at meeting them and trying to get them to help us with our community.” the Chief said.
Despite being a very busy man, the Chief has a few hobbies he enjoys, “I got lucky and I got to go hunting last Saturday. I have a friend that owns a bunch of land by Theodore Saskatchewan, near Yorkton. So that’s where I went hunting. So we saw over 100 elk, deer, and moose. We just never saw any big ones, we were looking for the big one you know?” Additionally, Chief Byron has a pool table and plays in a pool league once a week.
When asked about what he is passionate about, Chief Bitternose said, “Our people’s unemployment, getting them employed. Of course with this covid it’s next to impossible to get some kind of employment or something going. But just before covid hit we signed a big agreement with BHP mine… They offered to train our people in 300 jobs… Of course they also are in the same predicament as us. With covid plus the low price of potash.” Chief Bitternose also wants to hopefully get both a seniors complex and a better gym for the youth to use.
Chief Byron said of Indigenous youth, “My biggest encouragement is stay in school. Absolutely critical to stay in school… I encourage all youth stay in school. University isn’t for everybody, but there’s lots of other training elsewhere you can look. So that’s my main encouragement to our youth is stay in school and get the education you need.” Despite being surrounded by hard times, Chief Byron Bitternose has hope for a better future for his people.