A Life's Story
April 20, 2019
Keeping the faith in leadership
Tina Leveque served Brokenhead community as chief, pastor
By: Alexandra Paul
Ask Amanda Wilson about her mother, former Brokenhead Ojibway Nation chief Tina Leveque, and you might get a story that begins with an assertive answer: "Above average."
Christine (Tina) Beatrice Leveque was born Aug. 19, 1952, to parents from Brokenhead, 60 kilometres north of Winnipeg. She died Oct. 31, 2018, after an eight-year run on dialysis due to complications from diabetes.
Tina Kent left the First Nation for school in Selkirk, and later returned to raise a family. In 1994, she married Norman Leveque.
She raised a family of seven children, and by the time the youngest ones hit their teens, she was answering two very different callings: she entered politics and started studying to become a Pentecostal pastor.
Which is where Wilson’s "above-average" story fits into the timeline.
In 1996, Leveque was elected as councillor for Brokenhead; Wilson was a teenager.
"I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to... I wasn’t the best-behaved child out of all her seven. And as we were driving, she was talking about this study. She had said the average person affects at least 10,000 people over their life span," Wilson said.
"She talked about all the different choices we make (in life) and she said, ‘My girl, that is the average person. Now, you need to decide how you’re going to affect those people. If you’re going to affect them in a positive or negative way, because that’s a lot of people.’
"‘Are you going to be above average? Or are you going to be below?’"
Leveque would go on with her political career, and was twice elected chief. Under her watch in 2004, Brokenhead and its partners opened the South Beach Casino.
Smack in the middle of her political career, Leveque pivoted to embrace her second calling, and was ordained in 2002 as a pastor.
Manitoba has since elected and re-elected female chiefs but, in those days, Leveque was only the second woman elected to the position from Brokenhead.
Her son, Christopher Kent, and his sister described their mother as a devout Christian — not an easy path in an era where the religion is linked to colonialism, residential schools and a more than a century of harsh assimilation policies.
"It was a really tough decision for her because it went against all her Christian beliefs, to bring in a gambling facility to the community. But she could see the benefits that would come in from it. And the people had voted for it," Kent recalled.
That’s not to say Leveque didn’t have detractors. When her faith came up as an issue, as it inevitably did, she’d deflect it. "She would get everybody off the ‘rabbit trail,’ as she would say: ‘We are not here to discuss Tina Leveque’s faith,’" Wilson said.
Of the three Indigenous-run casinos in Manitoba, South Beach is the only one that has consistently turned a profit. (It’s owned by seven First Nations: Brokenhead, Black River, Hollow Water, Bloodvein, Pauingassi, Little Grand Rapids, and Poplar River.)
The casino and its paired hotel was a major commercial development. It brought traffic, attracted capital and paved the way for other more businesses to open and thrive at the First Nation’s townsite in Scanterbury.
"I don’t think we would have built Wavers (gas station) without the additional traffic flow," Kent said.
Meanwhile, Leveque was trying to keep to the straight and narrow with the casino development.
During those years, Leveque’s family recalled she spent a lot of time consulting well-known elder Lawrence (Happy) Smith, a band councillor from 1967-79.
"Happy was not a chief. And he was not one of those self-proclaimed elders. He was very honest and very kind... my mother used to go to him and get advice," Wilson said.
It was a circle that would retrace itself when Smith’s daughter made a run for the office Leveque once held.
"Leaders who inspire their people are few and far between," Brokenhead Chief Deborah Smith said in an email. "I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to be raised by one and to have served one (in various local government capacities)."
Smith said Leveque was her mentor, just as her father had been to Leveque.
"Before Tina’s passing, I, too, would seek her counsel and will forever be grateful for the advice and prayers she would offer me. Being a leader is not easy, and her prayers and her encouragement will always be remembered."
When Leveque died suddenly last year — doctors had just diagnosed her with bone marrow cancer two weeks earlier — her family paid tribute to her in the Free Press.
"She led the community for four years and under her leadership she ensured transparency and accountability. She took pride in her work adhering to he principles of good governance," her obituary reads.
Her best friend, Brenda Sinclair, said from her home in Brokenhead that Leveque’s passing was a blow for the tiny congregation (Scanterbury House of Prayer), the community and herself.
"I’ve known her all my life... It was very hard when we lost her. I know she had a impact on the community and on other First Nations," said Sinclair, voice breaking. "She was an awesome role model."