After 24 years and six attempts at election, James Tomma has been declared Kukpi7 (chief) of the Little Shuswap Lake Band.
Tomma, 60, defeated incumbent Oliver Arnouse in the Oct. 23 election, 76 to 49 votes.
The result was appealed but was upheld by an appeal board and declared final on Dec. 1. A total of 126 votes were cast with one spoiled ballot; the band has 347 members.
“I have run many times,” Tomma said. “Sometimes I lose it by one vote.”
Kukpi7 Tomma said a lot of people asked him over the years why he kept running when they could see the results have hurt him a bit.
“I don’t call it losing, I call it unsuccessful,” he said, explaining a person has to believe in themselves and he believed he’d be a good candidate. Running for chief wasn’t a decision he took lightly.
“So you brush yourself off and you try again,” he said.
“I have to believe in myself or why expect people to believe in me? In the last while, the band membership realized they needed a change. So they listened to me.”
He said he is quite outspoken.
“I believe in that – if you have an opinion, your opinion better be informed. I always say a misinformed opinion is going to be an angry one.”
Tomma was a water operator for many years. Prior to that he worked in fisheries after attending Malaspina university on Vancouver Island for fisheries and agriculture.
When he moved back in 2003 he was with the band’s public works department. During the contamination of the drinking water supply in Walkerton, Ont., he became involved with taking care of the band’s water supply.
They needed a certified water operator so he became one.
For many years he led plans for the water system and waste water, he said.
“In 16 years I never missed a day. One thing about a water operator, the health and well-being of the band depends on you, so you take your job seriously, no matter what you’re paid,” he said.
He would keep the alarm connected to his cell phone, in case there was an emergency.
“Not because of the pay – I had a dedication and loyalty to the people who used the water.”
He said he started his job as water operator at a very low rate of pay.
“It improved but not that much. Water operators make about 50 per cent of what a water operator in a municipality makes,” he said.
Which leads him to speak about his aims as chief.
“The big thing I want to leave – our youth, our youngsters, are going to be the leaders at some point in their life… My main goal is trying to get those youth back home, working for their own band.”
He wants his youth and their children’s children to be set – not just on reserves but anywhere they go. He said there are old people who have finished their work career and their future is uncertain. He wants to make sure youth don’t have to worry and, when they reach his age, don’t have to work anymore.
“There’s nothing I would like to see more, see our youth taking advantage of what ’s available to them.”
Tomma said he also thinks band membership have been left out of decision making. He would like to engage band members in band business, let them know about its endeavours so they can participate.
“They can get involved and we can start becoming a community again.”
Tomma grew up in Scotch Creek. He said his father, Leslie Tomma, was chief and grand chief before he suffered an injury when Tomma was about three. His mom, Rosa Tomma, who died in 2003, served as a band councillor.
Tomma said he is a second-generation residential school survivor who went predominantly to the North Shuswap rural school until he went to residential school. He said his family had limited exposure to their language and culture until they moved back to the band.
“We’re a small band. We do a lot. We’re quite proud of who we are,” he said.
“I’m starting to get back into my culture. When I hear a young child speak Secwepemctsin, that’s just beautiful. One of the things we’d like to do with our youth worker is start immersing our children into our culture.”
Kukpi7 Tomma said band membership realize there is a lot of work to do.
“Every journey starts with a single step, one I hope every member will join me and see where it leads us. I want to leave a legacy for our youth…I want them to control their own destiny.”
“If I can make that happen when I lay down to sleep, I’ll know that I’ve accomplished something that I have wanted to my whole life.”
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter
and subscribe to our daily newsletter.