On Friday, August 23, 2019, the Cree Nation lost an enthusiastic advocate for students, a dedicated family man, a steadfast practitioner of Cree culture and values, and a devoted friend to many.
Born April 24, 1959, William Kawapit joined the Cree School Board in 2006 and worked in that role on behalf of students and staff until just a few weeks before his death.
William Kawapit was one of the most welcoming and understanding people I have ever met. A warm hug or conversation with him always made me feel better. He had a special way of making me feel his unconditional love and light could wash away any worries. Dominika Klimaszewski, Teacher
"He was passionate about anything to do with kids," said former Badabin Eeyou School teacher and school administrator Ashley Mann-MacPherson. "It was like all of the students were his children."
Mann-MacPherson recalls the day she flew into Whapmagoostui for an interview - her first teaching interview.
"I was shaking in the airport," she wrote on Facebook shortly after William's death. "I saw a smile from within a crowd I can only describe as ‘home’. William was a beacon of light that could radiate your soul. He made everyone he met feel like family." Mann-MacPherson called her youngest child after William.
He will be sadly missed at our CEA meetings and most definitely at his schools and community. Brenda Rose Wapachee, Community Education Administrator (Nemaska)
William was known by all as a gentle, kind soul whose steadfastness of spirit never wavered.
"He was a quiet leader," said Deputy Director General (Operations) Caroline Mark, who was William's direct supervisor for the past number of years. (She also worked with William as a colleague prior to her appointment as DDG.)
"He was respectful, soft-spoken, humble," she said. "He was inclusive. When you stood beside William you felt a sense of calm."
A man of strong Christian faith, William was called on to deliver opening and closing prayers at meetings of the Community Education Administrators.
"He always remembered others in his prayers, people from other communities than his own," Mark added.
Joey Charland was a teacher and, later, principal at Badabin Eeyou School when William was CEA.
"He loved being out in the bush hunting and fishing. And he loved sports - especially the Habs - and all concerts! He has a picture of himself with the band Scorpion!" Charland said.
"He also had a great sense of humour. He loved Mr. Bean and Benny Hill," Charland added.
William really did embody the values of the Cree School Board and the values that a good person would hope to live by. Lisa MacNeil, Coordinator of Staffing
The loss is being felt deeply in the community of Whapmagoostui, which lost another leader, Mina (Masty) Kawapit, on the same day. A combined funeral for William and Mina was scheduled for 3 p.m. on August 27, 2019.
Director General Abraham Jolly had kept in touch with William throughout his brief illness and, most recently, had told William of a planned visit for the Badabin graduation in which he hoped to spend time with him.
William wrote to Abraham after he'd become ill. He said, "Working for the Cree School Board has been the most rewarding experience of my life - especially seeing the kids every day and knowing they are our future."
"William was passionate about the Education Forum he organized just this past May. We couldn't know what the future would hold, but we hope to continue the momentum in the same spirit," Jolly said.
William leaves behind his loving wife Maria, and sons Robert, Vernon, Wendal, as well as step-son Stanley George.
It was a great privilege for me, and for my husband Robert, to know William. He always made us feel so welcome and treated us with great warmth, kindness, and generosity. Maria, his sons, all of his family members, friends and everyone who knew him will miss his kind heart, his gentle ways and his devotion to Whapmagoostui. Sheryl Gervais, Education Consultant
Remembered always for his faith, even temper, and quiet presence, for his ability to listen and hear, to be resourceful, and to work tirelessly on every committee he joined, and - especially - for his belief in education: William Kawapit, we will all miss you.