By: Damon Hunter
On December 4, I had a brief opportunity to sit down with Naotkamegwanning Chief Howard Kabestra. In this sit down, we discussed a soon-to-be-collected sum of approximately $76 million, and of his origins as chief.
DH: Why is the media and storytelling important? Do you think it’s important?
HK: I think it’s really good because everybody hears about what’s going on. And it’s broadcasted to the community, even social media. Why is it important? It’s good communication. Or bad communication depending on how you’re reporting it. [Laughs]
DH: Was there any reason why you agreed to welcome Karli and Solana (community journalism trainers)?
HK: I had to be at the school that time, and they were at the school. And I said, “we’ll take one”. I think it’s really good for you guys. Look what they did for you guys. On learning [about] journalism and basic human rights they’re teaching you about too. I think it’s one of the better ideas.
DH: Do you think this newspaper is important?
HK: Yes it is. Just like what I just said, it shows what you guys are doing, at the school and what’s happening at health, band office, all over. And it’s bringing people together, and especially the cultural and language [side]. Especially what the teachers are doing at the school. And [it’s] bringing the elders in.
DH: Is there anything big you’ve been working on recently? Any big changes coming, something like the skatepark Mary-Anne is working on?
HK: The negotiations with flooding. It’s coming. Maybe within one year. That’s a lot of money and it will help the whole community; set up capacity building, infrastructure, everything.
DH: Can you explain what that is?
HK: Getting a new school, or hiring more people to do some work or paying off our bills.
DH: I mean this flooding thing.
HK: Oh it’s negotiations between federal, provincial, and the band. There used to be land upfront now it’s all flooded. That’s when they built the dams in Kenora and every other place. That’s a big thing for everybody because it will get us a lot of things.
DH: This might be a little confidential but how much exactly will this pay if you go through with it?
HK: Seventy-six. Around there.
DH: Seventy-six million?
DH: Where will this flood?
HK: It’s flooded already. That’s what we’re getting compensated for.
DH: It’s already been flooded?
DH: When was this?
HK: 1800’s, early 1900’s.
DH: So it was a while ago.
HK: It’s a while yeah. We sued them for flooding our land.
DH: And what brought this to your attention, the idea to sue the government?
HK: It’s been on the table for a long time. We just started doing it. Turned out lawyers and.. everybody knew about [the flood].
DH: What’s your background? Your childhood, your education, your career, your family life or something. Just your overall background.
HK: Overall background? I worked as a protection worker, probation officer, community worker. I went to school in Daytona Beach, Lakehead University, and took some courses at Humber College, George Brown College, and special ed at University of Minnesota. And I’ve taken all the modules to be a protection worker and every kind of certificate.
DH: Has anything ever gotten in your way?
HK: In what way?
DH: Stopped you from pursuing this whole chief thing. Anything substantial?
HK: No not really. Nothing.