Grand Chief's Acceptance Speech

Ohiarihko:wa / July 22, 2015

Grand Chief Abram Benedict

Good afternoon: I want to thank everyone for coming out this afternoon. This is an exciting time for all of us, as we witness today’s swearing in of our district chiefs – and as we welcome seven (7) new members to Council. Nine years ago, or even just short three (3) years ago, I would have never imagined that I’d be here taking the oath of office for the position of Grand Chief.

I want to recognize both my mother Elizabeth and my daughter Havana who are here today. They have been by my side from the very beginning - from my first oath of office in 2006 – and through a few bi elections in 2009 and 2012: and now here today. Not only have they had to endure having their pictures all over my literature and website, but they also had to endure the larger than life size picture of us on a 16 x 27 foot billboard for past two months. I want to thank them with all my heart for always being there for me – through the thick and thin, and sometimes the ugly – but at the end of the day I know we are in this together and we do this for betterment of our people and community. 

I’d also want to thank all those who have supported me, family and friends, either over the last nine years or more recently through my run to become the next Grand Chief, whether by spreading the word, encouraging people to get involved, and ultimately coming out to vote. I would also like to pay tribute to 2 special women who were very supportive of my political aspirations from day one: the late Theresa Square and the late Barbara Barnes – l know they both are up above smiling ear to ear and patting my father on the back saying “good job!” 

Over the last several months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to many people – and going door to door I’ve been able to hear many concerns – listened to many stories, from personal experiences on Council to the many ideas for our community in the coming years.

I must say that although our needs are great, we also have many successes, and we truly do have a passionate community! Not one person was rude to me and not one person shut the door in my face. And I am thankful for that!  

In my door-to-door travels, it become evident to me how many people are not aware – not aware of what the MCA is doing - and sometimes they are not even aware of who their district chiefs are. Over the next three (3) years, I would like to close that information and awareness gap. Our direction as Council will include extensive community engagement, including finding alternate ways to engage with you. Most importantly, we will work to ensure that you have access and opportunities to provide us with meaningful feedback and direction.

The modernization of our methods will ensure that Council is being transparent and accountable. Meaningful engagement will eliminate any doubt that your voice isn’t being heard. If necessary and where needed, community laws and regulations to support this initiative will be examined. The Akwesasne Election law will be reviewed, and we will take the necessary steps to ensure that this law is consistent with the community’s expectations of leadership. We will ensure that the highest possible accountability and transparency standards are built in  the law. We will do this together, and with Council, we will always endeavour to lead by example.

We have many community priorities. Over the next year, I intend to work with Council to engage the community to identify the top priorities. We know that the needs and wants are great, but we must work together to identify the most pressing and urgent needs. It’s evident that we have the ability to develop well thought out plans, plans for job creation, plans for community infrastructure, and plans for language revitalization, just to name a few. Our solutions will start from the ground up and not from the top down, and we will engage with you to develop highly effective lobby strategizes and plans of actions to execute.

We will continue to develop and improve our relations with the external governments and our many other partners – from the federal government to the provinces, to the city of Cornwall. Over the past nine (9) years, I have witnessed how important relationship building is, but more importantly, what our approach is. We will ensure that our approach is always  mindful of the best interests of our community, and as our external relations grow and improve, we will ensure that our internal relationships continue to strengthen within. We will continue to close the information gap between the MCA and the community. As community leaders we will ensure that our direction and values are instilled in the direction of the MCA. As leaders, we must lead by example and I firmly believe that this starts at the top.

Going forward I know that one person cannot do this alone. In my time here on Council, I have observed many styles of leadership. I have worked with two grand chiefs and watched how each has worked with the Council, and I have learned a great deal from these experiences.  

Our District Chiefs bring to the table a range of expertise and experience from many areas. As the Grand Chief, I will draw upon each of these strengths to ensure that our community benefits from what our leadership can offer.

I call upon April, Karen, Joe, Steve and Louise to assist me in welcoming our new members to Council, and that they can learn from our past experience, because we too were once new to – . Together we will learn from one another and work as a team, building upon our successes to meet our challenges head-on: to lobby the government – to build relationships, and to ensure that our community supports us every step of the way, because that is what is expected of leadership. 

Over the last 9 years I have the privilege to learn from so many: I want to recognize our out going members – Joanne Jocko - Julie Phillips- Jacobs – Brian David – Florence Phillips – Larry King - William Bill Sunday –and Mike Mitchell.

These individuals have devoted anywhere from 3 to over 25 years in helping to build our community. Combined that is over seventy-five (75) years of experience working for Akwesasne. On behalf of the community and the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, Niawenkowa to each of you!

Over the next few months, we will undergo a learning curve. We will no doubt be working hard and learning a lot, but we ask for your patience as we align ourselves, learn and prepare to move forward.

Again, I want to thank everyone here today – and a big niawenkowa to the community for putting your support and trust in us to lead our community for the next three years. I know that together we are going to lead by example and we will make a difference for the generations to come.

Niawen