Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Mike Delisle was shocked when doctors told him in early October that he was suffering from a case of pneumonia.
“I was walking around with pneumonia that I had no clue I had, and once in the hospital, they discovered I had ulcers,” he said. “I was off work for two-and-a-half weeks, but it really put me on the shelf for at least a month to recover. It meant I had a lot of time to think.”
After spending more than 22 years working on and off for MCK, Delisle realized that the intensity of the job was taking a toll on his health. During his recovery, as he spent more time with his family, he began to accept that it was his time to step back from the Council table.
“If I can’t give 100 percent in terms of the work, I feel like I’m doing a disservice to the position and to my community,” he said. “This job requires dedication, attention to detail to everything that crosses your desk and door. I’m not going into this giving less.”
It was having time to think, and spending time with his family during his period of sickness that led Delisle to the decision to tender his resignation to Council.
In December, Delisle applied for a publicly posted job as Registrar of the Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawake Law and of the Kahnawake Residency Law for the Office of the Kahnawake Kanien’kehá:ka Registry.
“I’m excited. People have asked if I’m nervous, but I wouldn’t have applied for the job if I didn’t think I could handle the responsibility,” he said. “It’s still a major challenge, and there’s definitely going to be high-pressure moments. But it’s another way that I can continue my public service and contribute to defending the jurisdiction and ensuring good decisions are made on behalf of Kahnawake.”
Having spent much of his career at MCK, he said the decision was a tough one to make.
“This is harder for me than when I didn’t get reelected (as grand chief) in 2015. That wasn’t my choice; that was the community’s choice,” he said. “This time, it’s my decision, along with my family and other supportive people I’ve spoken to, but it’s still extremely difficult.”
Throughout the years, Delisle has been involved in various files and projects at MCK, both as a chief and during his time as grand chief from 2004-2015. He said one of his biggest moments at MCK was negotiations with the provincial government in the late 2000s, which saw Quebec promise over 700 acres of land be returned to Kahnawake. At this point, 500 acres have been returned.
“It had just never been done before, land had never been given back, granted back, bequeathed back to the community, land that has always historically been ours,” he said.
For those at the Council table, Delisle’s resignation came as a surprise, his presence having been a constant at MCK for so long.
“It’ll definitely be a tremendous void to fill. It’s definitely sad to see him go, but I also appreciate the times that we did have together and the friendship and relationship we’ve been able to build,” said MCK grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer.
“I’ve appreciated being able to go to him for information and historical things. He’s the longest-standing Council member, but the invitation was extended to reach out to him. He’s still going to be around – he’s still here.”
The Council will discuss on Tuesday how to allocate Delisle’s files going forward.
“We’ll be reporting to the community who will be shouldering that responsibility and that work in the next couple of months,” Sky-Deer said.
Though Delisle acknowledges that community members have differing opinions about the role of Council in community affairs, he said that he has always been guided by a duty to serve his own people. He pointed to a time in 2006 when Council decided to change chief terms from a two-year mandate to three years.
“It was changed by Council, not the community, and the vote at the table was 11-1. And I was the one who objected,” he said “Even though I feel two years is too short and that a three or possibly even four-year term would serve the community better, it’s not the decision of Council to lengthen the term. It should be the decision of the community through amendment of the Election Law, and that wasn’t the case.”
Having first been voted in as a Council chief in 1998, Delisle has also seen a lot of change in technology over the years. The rise of social media has been a big factor in the changing role of the MCK in Kahnawake.
“Everybody has access to information way beyond the means of what it was in the late 90s,” he said. “I think it’s had a detrimental effect on communal politics, and maybe even larger-scale politics as well.”
Though he thinks that the digital age has caused some problems in the community – the rise of misinformation being one – he said he remains hopeful about the future of governance in Kahnawake.
“I’m always supportive. Even when I didn’t get reelected as grand chief in 2015, I was supportive of Joe Norton because that’s who our community had chosen. This is my community, I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’ll support our local government in ensuring it’s doing the right thing for our community,” he said.
Though the past 25 years have been at times difficult for Delisle, he said that at the end of the day, he wouldn’t do anything differently.
“I don’t regret the decision to become a part of communal leadership. It’s taught me immensely about my personal life. It’s reinstituted a lot of the teachings from my parents, from schooling, about integrity, and strength, and doing the right thing when people aren’t looking,” he said. “I relish the 22-and-a-half years. I have absolutely no regrets.”
Delisle’s resignation from the Council table is effective January 26. He will commence his new staff role as registrar on January 29.
Due to the resignation occurring within months of this summer’s election, no by-election will be called to fill Delisle’s seat.