After serving as a councillor for the Sechelt Indian Band for 15 years and as chief for six, Tom Paul is ready for retirement.
Next month Paul will turn 65 and wants to spend time with his six grandchildren, get chores done around the house that have been put off for years, and spend time carving his canoe.
He will be greatly missed, as was evident by the crowd that showed up for his retirement party March 31, and he will be remembered as the chief that brought in self-government and signed the agreement for gravel extraction as one of the first economic development actions of the self-governed Band.
He first started as a councillor in 1975 serving off and on until 1986. In 1987 he was elected chief, a position he held for six years. He then took up a councillor's position again, which he served in until March 2011.
"When I first came on I was elected a councillor with elders that were in leadership roles for years and years and they were butting their heads against the provincial government and the federal government," Paul recalled. "They couldn't get anywhere because there was a paternal attitude of the federal government, they had to look after the First Nations people. Then you had the provincial government denying aboriginal people and their rights, so these chiefs were struggling with that and that's where I first learned from them."
He listened and learned for many years, helping his people fight for the right to govern themselves. In 1986 the SIB obtained self-government and in 1987, Paul was elected as chief.
"We started implementing all the different aspects of self-government. In self-government we already had title to our lands, so as soon as we got title to our lands we signed the agreement with Construction Aggregates and they came right in and starting putting in infrastructure like the conveyor belts, the crusher plants, then the offloading facility," Paul said, noting the development meant guaranteed economic development for the SIB. "In 1988 my father was still alive and I got a call that our first barge was going to go out that morning with gravel on it and I said 'OK I'm going to go down and watch.' I ran down to my mom and dad's and looked out my dad's front window and I said 'pop look at this, there goes our first barge of gravel.' He got up and he looked at it and he said, 'my God, there goes my land.' Two different perspectives on economic development.
"Here I'm looking at economic development as the gravel going out, that it provides an opportunity for us, and my dad was looking at it as his land was going out on a barge. So that was a real eye opener for me."
He said the decision to allow Construction Aggregates to mine on SIB lands has paid off in jobs for Band members and the greater community, as well as mining profits going to the Sechelt Nation.
It was just one of many difficult decisions Paul had to make during his time on council.
"I've had a pretty good career as a politician, but it's difficult. It's really difficult to be a politician for a First Nation because we have a really close, tight-knit community and every decision you make effects your family, your brothers and sisters," he said.
He is happy to pass the torch to a new council and chief this month, leaving them with a few words of wisdom.
"I told them not to take it too personallyYou're up there to represent the whole community, even though you're representing your families, you have to make sure that you represent the common good of the people and that will really go a long way," he said.