Victor Bonspille has been elected grand chief of Kanesatake, the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community west of Montreal, bringing an end to the 10-year reign of Serge Otsi Simon.
Bonspille won Saturday's election with 368 votes against Simon's 283 votes. Six hundred people voted in the election, a high turnout, according to Chief Electoral Officer Luc Lainé.
"This was probably one of the most important turnouts in terms of people who came to cast their vote and it took long to make the count for all the votes," Lainé, who is from Wendake First Nation, said Sunday.
The six council positions were won by Amy Beauvais, Jeremy Teiawenniserahte Tomlinson, Denise David, John Canatonquin, Brant Etienne and Valerie Bonspille.
"It's going to be a group and community effort," Bonspille, the incoming grand chief, told The Canadian Press. "We have a lot of work to do, a lot of repairs, then we will take it from there and work on positive change for Kanesatake."
The end of Simon's tenure as grand chief was often marked by controversy.
In February of 2020, he was locked out of his office by members of the community who were upset that he had publicly called for an end to rail blockades that were erected in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in B.C.
Several months later, according to the Montreal Gazette, a group of around 100 band members backed a non-confidence motion denouncing Simon's leadership.
"In some ways, it's a big weight off my back," Simon told The Canadian Press. "Ten years of this, all of this sudden, it's over. It's a bit liberating."
Kanesatake had seen a rise in cannabis dispensaries and criminal activities on its territory, which had raised concerns and prompted calls for the creation of a local police force. Simon backed the idea but it remains contentious within the community.
Bonspille won supporters with his backing of Mohawk-language education and promising more transparency in council decisions.
"Leading up to the election there was a big voice of 'We need change,'" said Kanesatake resident Stacey Pepin. "Serge Simon was turning it into a municipality when it is supposed to be a sovereign nation."
Tomlinson, who helped organize the non-confidence motion last year and is now a newly elected member of the band council, said he hoped a more cooperative spirit would mark the new administration.
"I look forward to working toward bringing the people back to the political table and facilitating some important dialogue that needs to happen for our people to move forward," he said.