July 8, 2021
TORONTO — The newly elected female grand chief of the Kahnawake Mohawk community south of Montreal says she plans to develop an economic strategy for the future, but first, she’d like to focus on healing.
On Saturday, Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer became the first woman and first person who identifies as LGBTQ2S+ to be named grand chief in the community’s history.
“It’s quite overwhelming,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday. “But I’m very honoured that the community put their support behind me to take on this role.”
The 41-year-old served as a council chief for 12 years before she was elected to the council’s top post, which was previously held by former grand chief Joe Norton, who died last year.
Sky-Deer recognized that she’s taking over at a time when there is heightened attention on Indigenous issues following the recent discoveries of unmarked graves at residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
“I don’t think there’s any family or one person who was not impacted by the effects of Indian residential schools, be it if our grandparents attended, parents might have attended, family members… so we’re all trying to pull together and band together in light of this,” Sky-Deer said.
The grand chief said that unity was apparent on Canada Day when members of the Kahnawake Mohawk community donned orange shirts and got into their vehicles to participate in a rolling blockade of several highways that cut through their territory in an effort to honour of the victims of the residential school system.
“To me, it was good medicine, and it was a start of more of those kinds of activities to come in our community,” she said.
Sky-Deer said she hopes to hold more gatherings over the summer to promote healing within the community now that pandemic restrictions are starting to ease.
“We could start to do activities in our culture, spiritually, ceremonially, to lift the spirits of our people in our minds so that we can be ready for the work in the challenges ahead,” she said.
In addition to organizing events, the grand chief said another way to honour the memories of the children who died at residential schools is to build a better today for Indigenous Peoples in Canada.
“Coming together as a people, trying to figure out what we’re going to do to enhance our language and culture and strengthen our collective identity,” she said.
To do this, Sky-Deer said she would like to develop an economic strategy for the Kahnawake Mohawk community in order to address issues including lack of housing and well-paying jobs.
“The moneys that we get for certain issues, such as language and culture, just doesn’t cut it, housing doesn’t cut it, so we need to focus on a lot of the social issues that have been caused as a result of the residential school experience,” she said.
And while Sky-Deer is already making plans to hit the ground running in her new position, she also took a moment to reflect on what her achievement as the community’s first female and first LGBTQ2S+ grand chief might mean for future generations.
“If I can give somebody out there some inspiration that you can be in a leadership role, or be anything you want,” she said. “It’s not a barrier, I don’t think, especially in our community. I think we’re very progressive in our thinking and that we take care of our families, we love our families no matter what.”