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Meet Cody Diabo, Kahnawake's new grand chief


The Mohawk Council of Kahnawake has a new grand chief, after the community voted in council elections on the weekend.

In the early hours Sunday morning, the results showed that Cody Diabo defeated incumbent Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer by more than 250 votes to become the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community's fifth grand chief.

Diabo received 542 votes, followed by former council chief Gina Deer with 343. Sky-Deer received 275 votes.

"I was initially shocked and speechless," said Diabo. "I knew I had a lot of support going in, but I didn't know how much. I was honoured when he had read it and then immediately getting asked questions [about] how I feel. It's not often I'm speechless. So it was definitely a shock at the time."

Sky-Deer was elected grand chief in 2021 and became the community's first female grand chief and first openly gay person to hold the post. 

She is the only person to hold the post for one term. 

Kahnawake Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer is seen in Kahnawake, Que. on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

The 34-year-old Diabo served as a Kahnawake Peacekeeper before being elected council chief in 2021.

He, like former grand chiefs Joe Norton, Mike Delisle and Sky-Deer, now makes the jump from being at the table to the head of the table.

"[It's] like nothing you'd ever experienced or nothing you'd ever be prepared you for," said Delisle, who served as grand chief from 2004 to 2015. "I made the mistake thinking out loud that I'd be able to answer every letter, every request, that came across my desk. That lasted all of about six weeks. It's immense... There are always crises in the community, 'fires' as some people call them. It's a huge task."

Delisle lost his final election as grand chief in 2015 to the late Joe Norton. He said losing an election after serving as grand chief "hits you to your core."

"It's difficult," he said. "It took me about a year to come to terms with it, and mentally and physically be able to, I guess, become myself again... I saw her [Sky-Deer] this morning at the tobacco ceremony which showed leadership in my opinion, showing up two days after that loss, and showing support for existing council and Grand Chief Cody Diabo who she served with."

Norton died while in office in 2020.

In total, 1,164 community members voted for one grand chief and 11 council chiefs on Saturday.

Land and legislation

Diabo said the main issue facing the community is land.

"We have land grievances," he said. "We have land that's owed to us that hasn't been respected and there's a debt. And that needs to be paid back and we need to start reclaiming some of our land."

In addition, Diabo said he is displeased with Quebec and Canada enacting laws that affect his community without properly consulting them.

He cited Canada's gaming laws and Quebec's French-language law (Bill 96) as legislation he intends to dispute.

"You need to stop legislating over First Nations people," said Diabo. "You want to make your own laws for your own people, go right ahead, but leave Indigenous people out of it."

Diabo and the 11 council chiefs took their seat at the Mohawk Council on Monday. Top Stories

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