ST. GEORGE'S — Some time ago, when Rhonda Sheppard was in college, a friend told her that she’d be chief of the St. George’s Indian Band one day.
Sheppard didn’t believe it then, but that prediction has come true.
On Nov. 15 she was elected chief of the St. George’s-based Mi’kmaq band that has close to 3,000 members inside and outside the province.
Sheppard, 43, grew up in a large Mi’kmaq family that has always been a part of the band. An uncle of hers was one of the first chiefs.
Growing up she said the family spent a lot of time at their cabins in Flat Bay Brook where they would gather to drum and sing.
“It was part of what we did,” she said, adding being an Indigenous person is just a part of who she is.
“It’s spiritual. It’s a part of a way of living, a part of life. It’s me all the time.”
While she’s been a part of different committees and groups within the band, and is involved with People of the Dawn Indigenous Friendship Centre, Sheppard had never gotten involved at the council level.
That was until a recent annual general meeting when she was nominated for the position of chief.
“Well, if this is what’s meant to happen, it’s meant to happen,” she said of her thoughts at the time.
“The time felt right.”
The chief’s position was the only one decided by election with Sheppard and Ricky Swyers on the ballot. She replaces Marlene Farrell.
Just a few days after the election she was still wrapping her head around it all, but looking forward to taking office and working with the new council. The other members include vice-chief Cecil Ryan, secretary Amanda Conway Lasaga, treasurer Mary Garnier, directors Judy Falle, Stanley Harper, Georgina Hoddinott and Joyce McLean, elder Anne Marie Alexander and youth representative Ashtyn McLean.
She said the band has been doing a lot of things in the community over the past few years and her focus will be to continue doing what needs to be done for the communities and the members.
She wants to make sure people are heard and if something needs to be addressed that it is.
“Just try and better the communities and the band.”
And her community involvement will continue to extend beyond the band.
Sheppard is the commanding officer of the 194 Calypso Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, a role working with youth that she really enjoys.
She started volunteering with the corps in 2003 when her son, Cody Sheppard, was just five.
She also helps out with fundraisers for the corps and other groups in the town.
And she does it all while maintaining her own business and furthering her education.
Sheppard runs a day home and cares for six children and is studying early childhood education online.
She’s always worked in daycares and resource centres, with children and youth, and started taking early childhood education courses while living in New Brunswick. The courses weren’t transferable to a program in this province, but Sheppard said as a businessperson completing a program is something she really wants to do.
1.What is your full name?
2. Where and when were you born?
I was born in Stephenville in 1977 and raised in Shallop Cove.
3. Where do you live today?
4. What’s your favourite place in the world?
My favourite place in the world is anywhere as long as I’ve got all my family with me. Now, mind you, I do love Disney World. I went there twice, and it was amazing. It was like a fairy tale.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
No, I don’t really. I don’t have time.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
There’s a lot of stuff that people don’t know about me, but the latest thing I guess would be I was just in the Community Business Development Corporation's Long Range annual stakeholders report for my day home (business).
7. What’s been your favourite year and why?
The most favourite year would be when my son, Cody Sheppard, was born in 1998.
8. What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
When I left home years ago. I left for three years, I just went away for work and I had to come back home.
9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
I think, right now, accepting the nomination for chief. I guess when we were doing the whole election and everything, I realized it’s a really important thing.
10. What’s your greatest indulgence?
Oh, my God, chocolate.
11. What is your favourite movie or book?
I always liked the “3 Men and a Baby” and “Look Who’s Talking” movies.
12. How do you like to relax?
I go to a place that we all, my family and friends, usually go — our cabins in Flat Bay Brook, surrounded by the woods and surrounded by the water. I also go to my dad’s grave. I go to talk to my father. That gives me my peace and my relaxing mind.
13. What are you reading or watching right now?
No, nothing now.
14. What is your greatest fear?
Swimming. For the life of me I cannot learn how to swim. I took swimming lessons a few times and every single time they don’t know what to do with me. I don’t swim. They’ve still got to put a lifejacket on me.
15. If you were singing Karaoke what would be your song?
“Grandpa,” by the Judds.
16. What do you treasure the most?
My land. The land is what I treasure the most. Did you ever go outside and just look and try and just see what you can see on the land? I like to take things into perspective, what we’re given and what we use. Sometimes we use too much of what we shouldn’t be using, and our land is one of it. We might take too much from the land that we shouldn’t be taking and really all we need to do is take it when we need to take it. The land and I guess my elders.
17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
Understanding. I’ve got a big family, my parents had six children, and you’ve got to be understanding and loving in order to deal with all the different personalities. And I try to do the same with all the children around me.
18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
I don’t know because there’s so many people and it’s just too hard to figure it out.
19. What is your best quality, and what is your worst quality?
Empathy for my best. And my worst, tardiness. Everyone says whenever something is going on "you know Rhonda is going to be the last one to come."
20. If you didn’t take this career path, what would have chosen?
I don’t know. I’m in my right field. It would still be something with kids or youth, or even the elderly.