KAHNAWAKE, Que. — The longtime leader of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake who played a prominent role in the 1990 Oka crisis and rail blockades earlier this year has died.
The council says Grand Chief Joseph Tokwiro Norton suffered a fall at his home Friday and died later in hospital surrounded by his family.
He was 70.
The council says his death came as a shock to his fellow council chiefs and the community.
Norton was first elected to office in 1978 and was elected as Grand Chief in 1982, serving for 13 consecutive terms.
The council says he was known across North America as a fierce defender of Mohawk rights.
“Under his leadership Kahnawake saw unprecedented growth in many areas, particularly in economic development and the battle to restore and expand Kahnawake’s jurisdiction,” the council said in a release Friday.
“The community’s direction did not always mesh with that of the provincial and federal governments — something that Mr. Norton took great pride in.
“He became known as a strong voice for Indigenous solidarity, defiance and determination. As a statesman, he carried a vision in continually striving for the advancement of Indigenous governance.”
In 2002 he was awarded a National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Public Service.
The council said he spent many years as an ironworker before venturing into politics and was also a past head coach of Kahnawake’s senior lacrosse team.
“The MCK (Mohawk Council of Kahnawake) offers its sincerest condolences to the family, friends, colleagues and all those who crossed the path of this remarkable leader,” the council said.
“We share the grief that the community is experiencing at this most challenging time. He will surely be welcomed to the Spirit World by those who walked Turtle Island before him.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2020.
The Canadian Press