The Mohawk community of Kahnawà:ke, Que., elected its first ever woman and LGBTQ2S member as Grand Chief on Saturday.
Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer won with 573 votes against her four other opponents. Sky-Deer is the first woman to hold the role in the community’s history.
Sky-Deer has 12 years of experience as a council chief. She told Global News before the results came in on Saturday that her victory would be an inspiration to young women.
According to voters who showed up at the Kahnawà:ke sports complex to vote Saturday, the 2021 Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke elections stood for one thing above all.
“Change,” insisted resident Rebecca Boyer outside the polling station. “They want change now.”
Community officials said the elections were special this year. In addition to filling 11 council chief positions — and there were 17 candidates for that — the votes were held to fill the vacancy left after the passing of longtime Grand Chief Joe Norton last summer.
In the 2018 elections, Norton won by acclamation. This time, there were five candidates vying for the position.
“It’s going to be like a start of a new generation, you could say,” said electoral officer Angus L. Montour.
That there were so many candidates, some said, is an indication that there’s been a shift in the community.
“I think our community is at a critical point, too,” resident Arlene Horne told Global News outside the sports complex. “Things are changing within the world, you know?”
For some, one sign of that change is that there were two women running to replace Norton.
Sky-Deer ran against Gina Deer who is an educator, a police officer and entrepreneur.
Officials said there was a buzz around the election and they expected the turnout to be 20 to 30 per cent higher than average, in spite of COVID-19 restrictions.
Mike Delisle, former Grand Chief from 2004-2015, who ran and won a seat as council chief Saturday, said he expected the person who replaces Norton to have their hands full.
He also said he believes the Quebec government needs to engage more with the community.
Another issue he thinks the new chief will have to deal with is the discovery of children’s remains found buried at former residential school sites across the country.
“The church, as well as the Crown, being suspects, if you will — that’s obviously going to be a major factor going forward as well,” he said.
There are other challenges too — housing, health, education, different visions of how the community of 8,000 should be run — that some voters like Boyer see as motivation.
“It makes us want to work harder for ourselves, become a stronger nation, move forward,” she said.