Sky-Deer reflects on first year in office

·3 min read

When Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer defeated four other challengers last summer to win the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake’s Grand Chief seat, she became the first-ever LGBTQ Grand Chief in the community’s history – but that little piece of trivia pales in comparison to the importance of the spirit of co-operation that has found a home in local politics, she said.

“I don’t think that was as big a deal as other people made it out to be,” Sky-Deer said in an interview Wednesday morning. “I think that outside the community that might be a bigger deal than it is right here.”

True to form, Sky-Deer said fostering an atmosphere of inclusion in her community has been one of the highlights of her first year in office, which has been tumultuous, to say the least.

Since her election – which was just after the first discovery of 215 children buried on the grounds of a former Residential School – Sky-Deer has helped secure federal funding for a new Cultural and Language center and is leading the capital campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to build it, as well as fighting for the community on the provincial and federal levels – not the least of which was the battle over Bill 96.

The new law, which would strengthen the French language and oblige students at English CEGEPs to take three extra French second-language classes in their two years of study, was deemed “unacceptable,” to Kahnawake, where students are often fluent in English and Mohawk – but not French.

The solution? Under Sky-Deer’s – and the Kahnawake Education Center’s – leadership, a Grade 12 course could be instituted for local students – allowing them to bypass CEGEP completely.

“The tables are functioning so well together. Obviously, Bill 96 was a challenge, but it brought people together and we answered the challenge. The level of collaboration and co-operation is quite high and I’m optimistic for the future because the possibilities are endless,” she said.

As far as economic development goes, Sky-Deer is equally optimistic about the future for the community.

“I was able to hit the ground running in the first year and I was very fortunate to be able to do that, thanks to our community,” Sky-Deer said. “I see many business and economic opportunities coming our way and I think that embracing the philosophy of working together and collaboration will bear fruit for the community.”

Sky-Deer added the papal visit was a healing moment for many community members in the wake of the discovery of remains outside Residential Schools across Canada.

“The visit was big and provided a healing moment for a lot of our community as well as for Turtle Island as a whole,” Sky-Deer said. “We can’t continue to allow ourselves to be marginalized and together, we can continue to forge a stronger, better, future because of the work we will put in now.”

Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase