Chief Carol Bernard: Stepping down from success

By Shanielle Fiddler

Carol Bernard, who is the first woman chief of the northern community Waterhen Lake, shares her output on her title as chief and also shares her surprising decision to step down from her role this election. Carol Bernard is in her mid fifties. She is a wife, a mother of three, and has been a chief for roughly five election years. Both her and her husband, however, are both chiefs at different bands. Despite doing a fantastic job at the title, Carol shares details on how she decided to step down and why.

Sitting across her now—don’t worry we’re social distancing I swear—with a cup of tea and warm smiles, she tells me about her trip to Edmonton where her and numerous staff shopped for gifts for the community to give back during this long-going pandemic. She also talks about her adult children being home saying, “It’s just been a little more time with family.”  

“So, what else have you been up to during the pandemic?”, I ask her. She smiles a soft smile before answering, “Well, I’ve been still working. I’ve been doing a lot of online calls, a lot of conference meetings, zoom meetings, still working lots through the phone and coming in periodically to the office.” As you can see, she is always hard at work for the better of her community. 

Taking a more serious topic turn, I begin to ask her, “So, what made you get into politics?” Carol laughs and says, “Well to tell you the truth, I never thought I’d see myself in politics. I grew up in politics at home, my dad was a councillor for many years, my uncles were councillors, so they were always arguing. I remember I was working for the Tribal Council and one day me, my mom, and my dad were shooting ideas on some of the issues in the community and then I kind of jokingly said, ‘I should run for chief” and then, little did I know, my mom must have been listening to me. And then her and my aunty went and nominated me.” 

Carol laughs again and takes a drink of her tea, sharing how it came as a surprise to her. She goes on to say, “Everybody was coming up to me and telling me they were going to vote for me. I was kind of torn between deciding  if I should let my name stand or take my name out because I also applied for a job as a director at the Tribal Council and I also got interviewed the day after nominations and I got that job so I was torn. So, it came in my mind, ‘Hey, your parents are getting old. My dad is not that healthy, maybe it’s time to run.’, so I did. Once I got elected, I thought ‘oh no what did I get myself into? I don’t know if I can do this job.’” 

“How does it feel to be the first woman chief?” I ask, with a smile. She smiles back and happily replies, “It was quite an honour. It was humbling. I never thought I would be elected to begin with. And when they said I was the first woman chief; I was really honoured and humbled. I guess you can say it was a milestone in my life, but for me, I just think it’s a job and I’m happy I was elected as chief because it gave me that opportunity to learn and I’m still learning everyday.”

“So, both you and your husband are chiefs at different bands, how does that feel to be chiefs at different bands, and you guys are husband and wife?” Carol smiles at my question and then says, “It’s not too bad. My husband comes from a different community and I come from this community. We have two different bands and two different mindsets of how we do our leadership style. We kind of share ideas, and me mainly I guess,” We both laugh, “I like to give him my suggestions and ideas, sometimes he takes it, and sometimes I don’t think he wants to listen to me but we respect each other’s positions. 

“At home we’re not chiefs, we’re just two squabbling married couples like always.”

“I know you’re stepping down from position as chief so, how are you going to come to terms with that? And why did you make this decision?” I ask her. “I made that decision because one of my cousins – we’re closely related –  has expressed an interest that he wants to run for chief and he’s a lot younger and I thought, ‘Well okay I’ll support him and I’ll step down also’. But I’ll still run for councillor and support him as councillor, if I get in. As councillor, I’d still be able to focus on my portfolios if I select a couple portfolios. I’d be able to focus more on them, because as chief you’re all over the place, you don’t have one specific item you can focus on. So, by stepping back a bit I can focus more on my portfolios, but I can still be a support with the chief.”, Carol states.

“I still plan to lead in other ways and I have ideas to benefit the community because in order for us to have a healthy community we need to start with our children.” She says.

 “Wow, I think that’s all for now, but thank you so much for letting me interview you.” I say. “Yeah, thank you. I hope you have everything you need.” She smiles. We get up from our seats and I shake her hand.

This has proved to be a successful interview. Carol was very polite and open, and I believe her journey as a councillor will be a vastly different, interesting take. She’s also shared wonderful ideas to help the youth and what she wants to do as a councillor to be more involved. 

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