by Kinnukana, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Gordon Thomas Auger, Bigstone Cree Nation member is a strong leader, who speaks his mind and is not afraid to challenge others on important matters. Gordon was a former Chief of his Nation for a total of eighteen years. Over the years, his strong words have earned him criticism from some and praise from others. Gordon especially has a passion for the health and wellbeing of Indigenous children and youth that was motivated by his own upbringing.
Gordon was born in Wabasca, Alberta. His biological parents had a total of thirteen children. Gordon had eight brothers and four sisters, but he never knew them growing up. At six months old, he was adopted by his Aunt and Uncle, Louise and Max Orr, who had just lost a son. Gordon loved and admired his adopted parents.
At the age of six, Gordon was required to attend residential school. The Indian Agent told his parents that they could go to jail if they did not let him go. Gordon stayed at the St. John’s Residential School in Wabasca for ten years. The residential school was run by the Anglican Church. He did not have any siblings at the school and felt alone. During the ten year span, Gordon only saw his parents for approximately eight months overall. His parents lived mostly at their trap line for survival and to make ends meet. Gordon did not understand why they were not around when he needed them, and he figured that they just did not care for him. Gordon left residential school at the age of sixteen when he completed grade eight, the highest grade available.
A few months later, Gordon returned to St. John’s Residential School as a Supervisor. He was offered a job by the Church, and he accepted it. The school provided him with a few months of training beforehand to make sure that he knew what the expectations were. However, Gordon said he had other plans. He decided to return as a Supervisor so that he could be there to defend the younger kids. As a student, he was in a lot of fights and did not want other children to have the same experiences.
When he began working there, he was assigned supervision of the six to eleven year old boys. Many of the children already knew him. They asked him if they could speak Cree and he told them “Go ahead, don’t be afraid to talk your language and I will protect you.” Gordon also made a point to talk to the boys in the twelve to sixteen year old group. He told them to look after the smaller children, don’t boss them around, don’t hit them, and always protect them. Whenever Gordon saw anyone pushing around a small child, he always jumped in and told them to stop or they would have to deal with him. Unfortunately, the other staff started to complain about Gordon, and he was dismissed after eight months in the role for insubordination. Gordon is not sorry for what he did, and he had many of the young folks thank him later on for standing up for them.
Gordon left the school and began working at random jobs. He was also heavy into alcohol at the time and whenever he got a chance to drink, he would. One day, when he was 25 years old and very hung over, he saw a young person who he really admired driving a car. He told a guy he was with, “Did you see that young fella from Wabasca driving a car?” His friend said to him, “How old are you?” Gordon replied, “Old enough!” His friend said, “Old enough to know better Gordon. Don’t admire anyone, think about yourself. If you were not that crazy about your alcohol, how many vehicles could you have? Do not feel sorry for yourself.” And he walked away. Gordon thought what the hell is this guy trying to say. There’s got to be a point to this. He said it made him think a lot. Whenever he worked in British Columbia and came home with big money, it would all be gone in three or four days after partying. It was at that time that he understood and made a pledge to quit drinking.
Shortly after, Gordon met his wife, Jeannie Cardinal from Peerless Lake, Alberta, and she helped him maintain his sobriety. Together, they have five children, Priscilla, Sharon (passed), Karen, Clayton and Carmen. Gordon decided to go back to school and study bookkeeping which led him to the start of his new career. Over a number of years, Gordon held several jobs, including with Canada Manpower and Alberta Social Services in Edmonton. Then, Gordon and his family decided to move back to his Nation where he could contribute his knowledge and skills for the betterment of his community.
Gordon worked as the Manager of Social Development for Bigstone Cree Nation. In his work, Gordon saw a lot of abuse towards women and children taking place and this inspired him to work with partners to build a Women’s Shelter for his Nation. Today, the Neepinise Healing Family Centre, continues to provide a safe and secure environment for women and children who are seeking a positive change in their lives.
Gordon wanted to do more for his Nation, so he decided to run for Chief. Some of his clients did not want him to put his name forward because he had helped them so much, but Gordon knew that he could make more of a difference as the leader of his Nation. Gordon ran for Chief and was first elected in 1992. He served as Chief for a total of eighteen years overall.
As Chief, Gordon worked fearlessly for the Nation and stood up to other organizations for their rights. Most notably in 2016, Gordon called out the Calgary Herald for an ill-informed article saying that First Nations need to be monitored for every federal dollar spent. Gordon also set up toll stations in protest to multinational corporations who were infringing on land and water rights. Most importantly, Gordon has worked tirelessly to advocate and build a strong Nation for the children and youth in his community. Today, as an Advisor for the First Nations Health Consortium, Gordon continues to advocate, support and connect with Indigenous families and communities and is not afraid to stand up for what is right.
When asked what advice he would provide Indigenous youth today, Gordon said, “You are never alone, do not think you are alone for one minute. Believe in yourself and don’t feel sorry for whatever you did in the past. I accepted a lot of negative comments in the past that led me to alcohol. If I continued to accept those comments, I would be nothing and I would have nothing. If you receive good advice, accept it, follow your dreams and don’t give up. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”